Baroque Kol Nidre

The composer Handel arrived in London in 1712 and wrote his sublime opera Giulio Cesare in 1724. This was only a short time after Jews had been allowed to return in England starting in 1655 after their explusion in 1290. By this time, historians suggest that the majestic melody of the Ashkenazi tune to Kol Nidre must have been well established. One of the moving and dramatic arias of Giulio Cesare is the funeral oratory of Pompey sung by Cesare “Alma Del Gran Pompeo”. Every time I hear this aria always wonder if Handel was influenced by Kol Nidre.

Listen to this clip from the aria and see if you agree with my feeling of the uncanny similarity. The audio excerpt is taken from the René Jacobs recording of Giulio Cesare. Jennifer Larmore is heard singing the title role of Cesare.

We know so little about the life of Handel, his opinions and his philosophy. However it would appear from his music that he was motivated by universal ethical ideals. I like to entertain the fantasy thought of the great composer sneaking into the synagogue on Yom Kippur to hear Kol Nidre and being as moved by it as we all are and expect to be very shortly.

G’mar Hatima Tova to all!



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