The Musical Journey of Jewish Music by Sémplice

By: Kamil Wojciak, Staff Writer

Sémplice, a group of musicians, performed six centuries worth of music (that ranges from the Renaissance to contemporary times) by Jewish composers. This performance was on February 27th, started at 7:30 PM, and was located at the Claver Recital Hall.

The main aspect of this performance was to show the audience the history of the Jewish music that we have today. After the round of introductions of the group members, they started with songs from the Renaissance era. The musical pieces played for the Renaissance era were composed between the 1400s and the 1600s. One famous composer from this period whose pieces were played was Thomas Lupo (“The Elder”), a violinist and musician for the King of England from 1603 to 1627. Thomas Lupo is important because he highly contributed to the growth of fantasias (musical compositions that rely on improvisation) and gave more recognition to the viol (a bow stringed instrument similar to the cello). The main instruments Sémplice played for the Renaissance era were the recorder, violin, lute, and cello.

After playing pieces from the Renaissance era, they immediately transitioned to the Baroque era; the era that is chronologically after the Renaissance era which began around  the 1600s and lasted until the mid 1700s. The first song played by Sémplice for the Baroque era was by Abraham Caceres (Casseres), a Jewish Dutch composer known for most of his works found in the early 1700s. During this era, the music of Jewish culture greatly expanded and evolved with the implementation of trio sonatas and the newer technology that accompanied music. For the trio sonatas played by Sémplice, the recorder and violin played the contrasting melodies, and the lute and cello played the bassline and harmonies for the pieces. Additionally, the harpsichord, an instrument that is part of the keyboard family, was used for part of the Baroque era songs.

One great example of music through which Sémplice showed the evolution and growth of Jewish music up until the Baroque era was their performance of George Frideric Handel’s trio sonatas. Handel, basically one of the pioneers of the trio sonata genre and the implementation of the harpsichord into trio sonatas, is the pure embodiment and representation of the Baroque era.

With all the pieces from the Renaissance and Baroque eras completed, the performance took a brief intermission for the final part: the Klezmer genre. For the final part of the performance, Sémplice members changed their outfits and instruments to accompany the contemporary pieces coming up. Personally, this was my favorite part of the whole performance, with its more modern roots (being from the 1900s) and the upbeat tone that differs from the Renaissance and Baroque eras of music. Instead of the common violin-based pieces the Renaissance and Baroque eras focused on, the Klezmer genre deviates from the common instruments by adding in the clarinet, tuba, and even the accordion. With its new instruments and unique musical tone, Klezmer received a rise and resurgence in the 1970s.

Finishing off the performance with a fun Klezmer song that included the audience’s participation, Sémplice caused the audience members to leave the concert hall with happy faces and great knowledge of the history of Jewish music. Sémplice provided a performance that highly exceeded expectations; one that was both entertaining and educational.