Folk Literature of the Sephardic Jews, Volume V.
Judeo-Spanish Ballads from Oral Tradition IV. Carolingian Ballads (3): Gaiferos collected by Samuel G. Armistead, Joseph H. Silverman, and Israel J. Katz.
Edition and Study by Samuel G. Armistead with Musical Transcriptions by Israel J. Katz. Technical Editor, Karen L. Olson.
As part of the ongoing multi-volume series, Folk Literature of the Sephardic Jews, Vol. V is devoted to an in-depth study of seven Judeo-Spanish ballads from the Eastern Mediterranean and North African Sephardic communities. Five of these songs go back to epic narratives that were popular during the Middle Ages. The first chapter concerns three ballads having epic ancestors: Gaiferos the Gambler and Gaiferos and Melisenda are genetically related to the 9th-century Germano-Latin epic poem of Waltharius. The story probably reached Spain by way of a lost French intermediary, since some of Walther’s characteristic adventures are alluded to in the Song of Roland. Both of the Sephardic ballads are related to the long 16th-century romance of Asentado está Gaiferos. This chapter also includes exhaustive studies of other Hispanic versions of the same ballad still sung in the modern Peninsular tradition, in various Spanish-speaking provinces and Galicia, in Trás-os-Montes in Portugal, and in Catalonia. Cervantes knew an important version of Gaiferos, which he builds into the episode of Maese Pedro’s puppet show (Don Quijote, II,26).
The second chapter concerns the ballad of Sleepless Melisenda, known in both the Eastern and North African Sephardic traditions. Though several 16th-century printings of this ballad have come down to us, Sleepless Melisenda is known only in the modern Judeo-Spanish repertoires, but in no other geographic branches of the Hispanic tradition. The topic of this amorous girl who boldly seeks her lover’s bedchamber during midnight hours is documented in several Old French epic poems. As is usual with most ballads based on medieval epic sources, the narrative experiences interesting adaptations in adjusting to its new life in a compact ballad form.
The third chapter is devoted to the enigmatic, exclusively Sephardic ballad of Melisenda Leaving the Baths, which embodies almost no narrative features, and only concerns a colorful, erotic description of the exquisitely beautiful princess, Melisenda—“the emperor’s daughter”—as she is leaving the baths. The only known early version of Melisenda Leaving the Baths is a 17th-century Dutch translation of the Judeo-Spanish variant sung, with mystical implications, by the false Messiah, Shabbethai Zevi in 1665. Another variant of the ballad was preserved among the Crypto-Jewish followers of the mystical Messiah, who, like their leader, converted to Islam in 1666. Some modern forms of Melisenda Leaving the Baths have been contaminated, at the cost of many of its original descriptive elements, by an exclusively Eastern Sephardic ballad of unknown origin, The Unmarried Count.
Each chapter is accompanied by Israel J. Katz’s insightful ethnomusicological studies of the ballad tunes. The volume closes with an extensive bibliography, nine different indices, and an etymological glossary of Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, and Turkish loan words, Old Spanish and Judeo-Spanish archaisms and dialect forms.
Series: Estudios judeoespañoles «Samuel G. Armistead y Joseph Silverman», #4.
ISBN 978-1-58871-106-9 (PB) 564 pp. $110.