Monday, June 22, 2009

Hebrew Song Index

Some months ago we received a phone call from a nostalgic gentleman trying to find the musical score of a Hebrew lullaby he remembered from his childhood -- in Egypt during the 1930's.

On another occasion, a scholar of modern Hebrew literature was determining the precise meaning of a literary passage which included a casual reference to a song popular in Palestine 90 years ago. He needed the words to all the stanzas and hoped to find the score as well.

Fortunately, due to the efforts of the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, there is a magnificent tool available which is able to satisfy both of these requests: the Hebrew Songs Index.

Originally available only on-site in Jerusalem, this database (along with its sister database, the Yiddish Songs Index) was digitized a few years ago and added to the marvelous array of options available when searching the National Library’s online catalog:

  • To search this catalog use the BASIC search mode.
  • Choose MUSIC: HEBREW SONGS INDEX from the drop-down list labeled SELECT LIBRARY.
  • Individual songs are retrieved when searching for the title, incipit, refrain, composer, lyricist, keywords, subject, and genres.
  • Be sure to search using the Hebrew alphabet on your keyboard (or a Hebrew virtual keyboard).
  • To find title, incipit and refrain, specify TITLE.
  • To find composer and lyricist, specify AUTHOR.

    The retrieved entry will usually provide the bibliographic information for the printed song collection/anthology which contains this song, with an indication of whether this host-item includes the score or just the words.

    This robust database includes over 13,000 entries. It is particularly rich in Israeli music (both pre-state and post-1948 songs). It also provides very specific geographic indexing, sometimes indicating the song’s town of origin — try typing מסורת into the SEARCH FOR text-box, when you specify SUBJECTS: MUSIC R R in the SELECT SEARCH OPTION field. Music of the various Hasidic sects is also indexed by sect: specify מסורת חסידים as a subject search, for this option.

    There are not many indexes to Hebrew and Yiddish songs in printed collections, so we treasure the few such tools that we have. And indeed the Hebrew University's Hebrew and Yiddish song indexes are veritable treasures.


  1. Naomi,
    This si very helpful because you tell us exactly how to search in the database. Please keep up this great work. Marion

  2. Shannah Tovah - A year of song - enjoy the link and please comment on it.