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A Tool of Remembrance: The Shofar in Modern Music, Literature and Art

Colloquium Muziekwetenschap
Kees van Hage

September 25, 15:30-17:00
Universiteitstheater, Nieuwe Doelenstraat 16, room 3.01

The shofar or ram’s horn, like the menorah and the Star of David, is a central symbol of Judaism. In the Hebrew Bible, it is the most mentioned instrument: it announces the revelation of the Ten Commandments, it calls for religious rituals, it is heard in the exhortations of prophets and it gives the signal for battle. In the Bible, however, the shofar is only rarely a musical instrument. In the prayer books for Rosh Ha-Shanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), the shofar produces a wordless continuation of prayer, and therefore is considered a ritual instrument instead of a musical instrument.

By the end of the 19th century, writers, composers and artists changed their way of looking at the shofar and thanks to their work, the venerable ram’s horn was given a second youth; it made an artistic turn to music, literature and art, revealing its unexpected artistic abilities, without forgetting its religious past.

A Tool of Remembrance, the first scholarly monograph on the shofar, explores the use and meanings of the shofar as a traditional religious symbol in the new, secular context of modern music, literature and art, where the instrument is no longer subject to restrictions of place (the synagogue), time (the liturgical year) and authority (halakhah), and where it is directed to general, not exclusively Jewish audiences of listeners, readers or viewers, who are not aroused to action or repentance, but invited to experience the artists’ personal interpretations of Jewish traditions.