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Maoz Tsur -Rock of Ages 

12/10/2023 05:03:23 PM


Each Jewish holiday has an anthem associated with it, a  melody which serves as the leitmotif which is woven throughout the liturgy. Maoz Tsur, a poem written as early as the 13th century and the melody linked to it has been the anthem for Chanukkah for centuries! We sing the hymn in Hebrew and in an English translation as we watch the candles burning, we feature the melody in our hallel service and insert it in other parts of our service. But, where did this melody originate? There is no way to know for sure, but many have suggested that the melody known from at least the 15th century may have  been taken from 3 German folk melodies. Martin Luther wrote two chorales in 1523 and 1524 that have musical parallels to the Maoz Tsur melody, but, it is not clear who borrowed from whom. Even earlier than 1523, in 1450, there  a new piyuut (liturgical poem) was written in Prague and the instruction to the text is to be sung to "the melody of maoz tsur". We don't know what that melody was, but apparently it was very well known. The famous Cantor, Leib Glanz (1898-1964) bemoaned the fact that our "national song for Chanukkah", celebrating our victory over hellenization, is sung to melodies that may have originated from German folk and Church melodies. He wrote a new melody in 1955 with the hopes that it would become THE melody for Maoz Tsur, however it has faded into obscurity. 

The tradition of Italian Jews of Ashkenazi descent (known as theTedesco tradition) brought us another well loved melody. The melody was transcribed by a composer, Benedetto Giacomo Marcello in the early 18th century. Marcello was a politician and a composer of church music. When he set the first 50 psalms, he turned to the Venetian Jewish community for melodies that he believed were derived from the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. His melody for Maoz Tsur is still very beloved and often sung by choirs as an example of a different, yet authentic melody for Maoz Tsur. 

The following link will bring you many beautiful recordings of Maoz Tsur including a Morrocan melody, a "Southern Americana" version by Mark Rubin (Hill Country Hannukah), which is described as "Bluegrass moving into Blues", at least two recordings of the Marcello melody (described as Sephardic, but is actually an Italian Ashkenazic melody), the same melody sung in Ladino. There are 8 delightful recordings each with its own flavor. I am enjoying listening to each one and hope you will as well.  8 versions of Maoz Tsur  

For a very insightful delve into the text and melody of Maoz Tsur, you might enjoy this 30 minute lecture on youtube as well. Maoz Tzur: The Story of a Melody by De. Naomi Cohn Zentner


Wed, April 17 2024 9 Nisan 5784