While much of artistic and spiritual greatness has been saved from the rubble of World War II and the Holocaust, the sound of silence still largely cloaks nearly three hundred years of glorious synagogue music that flourished from ca. 1675 to ca. 1960.
Developed over a period of 2000 years, elements of synagogue music trace back to Middle Eastern antiquity. Whether used in the liturgy and prayer that marked the milestones of the Jewish calendar, in the chanting of the Torah and other scripture, or in the commemoration of life cycle events from birth to death, this music exquisitely expressed the individual and collective emotions and aspirations of the Jewish people for generations.
Crystallized during the course of the 17th century, the Eastern European musical-liturgical tradition underwent a three-and-a-half century period of intense and creative development, including the grafting on to it from a variety of indigenous European cultures. Eastern Europe was home to the overwhelming majority of the world's Jews who had come from many different places of origin, and who collectively remained there for a period that spanned several centuries. Fertile conditions existed which ultimately gave rise to the creation of a wealth of synagogue music of incredible magnificence and sophistication. As these Jews and their descendants emigrated to America, Canada, South Africa, England, Israel, Australia and other lands, this tradition spread and became dominant.
In the aftermath of a century which witnessed the cataclysmic events of the Russian Revolution of 1917, Communism, two World Wars, the Holocaust, as well as the forces of acculturation in new lands of opportunity, very little has survived of that once glorious musical tradition.
Today, much of this music remains unpublished and unrecorded, and even that which does exist cannot be readily accessed from any organized or central resource. In contrast to Christian sacred music, which has become part and parcel of our modern musical tradition and idiom, much of Judaism's sacred music remains scattered, not centrally organized, and difficult to access.