Tuesday, November 14, 2000

Ma'oz Zur

MA'OZ ZUR  By : Cyrus Adler   Francis L. Cohen

ARTICLE HEADINGS:   The Traditional Tune.

Commencement of the hymn originally sung only in the domestic circle, but now used also in the synagogue, after the kindling of the lights on the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah). The acrostic signature is that of Mordecai. Zunz ("Literaturgesch." p. 580) is inclined to place the author of this hymn in the middle of the thirteenth century. He may have been the Mordecai ben Isaac ha-Levi who wrote the Sabbath table-hymn "Mah Yafit" (Majufes), or even the scholar referred to in Tos. to Niddah 36a. Or, to judge from the appeal in the closing verse, now generally suppressed, he may have been the Mordecai whose father-in-law was martyred at Mayence in 1096.

The Traditional Tune.

The bright and stirring tune now so generally associated with "Ma'oz Zur" serves as the "representative theme" in musical references to the feast (comp. Addir Hu; Aḳdamut; Hallel). Indeed, it has come to be regarded as the only Hanukkah melody, four other Hebrew hymns for the occasion being also sung to it (comp. Zunz, l.c. pp. 422, 429; D. Kaufmann, in "Ha-Asif," ii. 298), as well as G. Gottheil's paraphrase, "Rock of Ages," in the "Union Hymnal" (No. 107). It was originally sung for "Shene Zetim" ("Olives Twain"), the "Me'orah," or piyyut, next preceding the Shema 'in the Morning Service of the (first) Sabbath in the eight days of the Feast of Dedication. Curiously enough, "Shene Zetim" alone is now sometimes sung to a melody which two centuries ago was associated rather with "Ma'oz Zur." The latter is a Jewish-sounding air in the minor mode, and is found in BenedettoMarcello's "Estro Poetico Armonico," or "Parafrasi Sopra li Salmi" (Venice, 1724), quoted as a melody of the German Jews, and utilized by Marcello as the theme for his "Psalm XV." This air has been transcribed by Cantor Birnbaum of Königsberg in the "Israelitische Wochenschrift" (1878, No. 51)

The present melody for the Hanukkah hymn has been identified by Birnbaum as an adaptation from the old German folk-song "So weiss ich eins, dass mich erfreut, das pluemlein auff preiter heyde," given in Böhme's "Altdeutsches Liederbuch" (No. 635); it was widely spread among German Jews as early as 1450. By an interesting coincidence, this folk-melody was also the first utilized by Luther for his German chorals. He set it to his "Nun freut euch lieben Christen gmein" (comp. Julian, "Dictionary of Hymnology," s. v. "Sing praise to God who reigns above"). It is familiar among English-speaking people as the tune for a translation by F. E. Cox of the hymn "Sei lob und ehr dem höchsten gut," by J. J. Schütz (1640-1730). As such it is called "Erk" (after the German hymnologist), and, with harmonies by Bach, appears as No. 283 of "Hymns, Ancient and Modern" (London, 1875). The earliest transcription of the Jewish form of the tune is due to Isaac Nathan, who set it, very clumsily indeed, to the poem "On Jordan's Banks" in Byron's "Hebrew Melodies" (London, 1815). Later transcriptions have been numerous, and the air finds a place in every collection of Jewish melodies. It was modified to the form now favored by English Jews by the delicate liturgical taste of Mombach, to whom is due the modulation to the dominant in the repetition of the first strain, shown in the transcription above.

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