Sephardic Songbook edited by Aron Saltiel, intro by Josh Horowitz

book coverThe Sephardic Songbook, Edition Peters, 2001 ISBN 3-87626-222-4
edited by Aron Saltiel, intro by Josh Horowitz.

Update: The Sephardic Songbook (2001 ISBN 3-87626-222-4) released 10 months ago by Aron Saltiel and Josh Horowitz is just entering the second edition (the first sold out).

Update 2011: The Sephardic Songbook is available from Sheet Music Plus or directly from the publisher, Edition Peters.

You can also reach Aron Saltiel by email, or visit his website,

The Sephardic Songbook has just been released by the classical music publisher, Peters Edition, Frankfurt. It is a collection of 51 Judeo-Spanish tunes from Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece and Bosnia, collected and edited by Aron Saltiel, one of the leading exponents of the Sephardic music community and a native speaker of Ladino, with transcriptions and an extensive introduction by Josh Horowitz.

The book contains the complete texts and music of all songs in Judeo-Spanish, English and German, complete with annotations, linguistic details and information about the informants. This book has been 10 years in the making and was put together meticulously from field recordings which were made over the past 30 years.


The transcriptions in this collection are based directly upon versions sung by usually one, but sometimes more than one informant. The songs have been gathered from the Ottoman Judeo-Spanish vocal tradition and were performed without instrumental accompaniment. In spite of the obvious contradictions and notational shortcomings which have become apparent to us in preparing this book and which we discuss below, we have tried to remain true to our original intention: to present a songbook which conveys as closely as possible the performance and style of 51 Sephardic songs with their complete texts and a representative melody. For this reason, we have been careful to leave out any suggestions which would obscure the original impression of the song and thereby make it impossible for the reader to separate our interpretation of it from that of our informants....

In some places we have had to do some reconstruction work on the songs, especially where it was not possible to glean a complete version from the first verse alone. At times our informants would stumble, forget a word or two, skip parts that weren't known or modulate their voice unintentionally. In such cases we have drawn the missing or unintelligible melody fragments from one or more of the other verses and carefully spliced them into place. Although we have tried to draft transcriptions notating as closely as possible the original version(s) of the songs, to assert that there is such a thing as an 'authentic' edition would be misleading for the following reasons....

[Note: Some of these songs are apparently covered by Ruth Yaakov, as mentioned in my review of her album, back in 1999. ari]

From: allen watsky,
To: Jewish-Music Mailing list (reproduced with author's permission)
Date: Saturday, January 12, 2002
Subject: Sephardic Songbook


Edition Peters editions are always elegant, well laid out, good paper stock etc. I'm sort of a paper fetishist, I need no encouragement to pick up another book or edition of music. This one stands out, very well presented. I have other Peters items.

The contents of the book, are really great. I actually love this music. I read through about 20 or so pages of it last night. by the time I had sight read to about page 13 page 2 of Canto de boda II, I was electrified. This material is a gift to the musical community.

The only slight problem for me is that they have a number of spots where half measures are continued on the next line. I always find that mildly annoying. Its no big deal. I am going to use this music. I especially enjoy the compound meters. Very refreshing. It would be fascinating to hear the field recordings, is that possible ?

Have I been too effusive ? Naaaaaaah... This is great stuff. Congratulations.... AW

From: "Joshua Horowitz"
To: Jewish-Music Mailing list (reproduced with author's permission)
Date: Sat, 12 Jan 2002
Subject: Re: Sephardic Songbook

Thanks for the kind words about the Sephardic Songbook Allen.

Regarding the layout solution of half measures which continue on the next line: The publisher wanted to give the text precedence when faced with the problem of splitting up the music line or the text line. I disagreed at first, but eventually saw the logic in this. If you are a singer, it is more difficult to locate the beginning of the text lines when you have several verses and the beginnings of the lines appear in the middle of the music line somewhere. As an instrumental musician, I also want to see measures kept intact, but as a singer, you want to be able to locate the verse beginnings easily, especially when there are many strophes, which is often the case in the ballads. The problems of orthography and layout presentation were thought out quite thoroughly in this edition, and the work with Peters Edition was the highest level I have yet experienced. That's why the release took so long (3 years). The enormous amount of details which need to be dealt with easily escape the reader's attention (and should!) when the finished product is presented in a simple fashion.

You may also notice the solutions to unusual forms, such as the Passover counting song, Quen Supiese y entendiense, whereby each verse increases in length - no easy problem to solve when you want to be clear in presentation and use as few explanatory notes as possible. There are also forms which have assymetrically constructed strophes, making an intelligible solution quite difficult to come by (see for instance Bre Sarica) I hope that the result pleases those who use the book and invite comments and suggestions.

Thanks again for your warm comments...Josh