Review: The Affecting Saga of “The Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book”


By Daniel Hathaway

The plangent sounds of Merima Ključo’s accordion, combined with an arsenal of musical effects from pianist Seth Knopp and evocative video art by Bart Woodstrup, told the affecting saga of a medieval Jewish prayer book last Wednesday evening in Gartner Auditorium at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

The 50-minute multimedia work entitled The Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book sketched in understated musical and visual imagery the extraordinary travels of a modest little manuscript of Passover prayers. A pre-concert introduction was given by author Geraldine Brooks, who first learned about the Haggadah while covering the Siege of Sarajevo for The Wall Street Journal, and wrote about it in her 2008 historical novel, The Sarajevo Haggadah: People of the Book.

Dating from 14th-century Spain, the book went through many hands before ending up in Bosnia, having been rescued from destruction by such unlikely figures as a Jesuit priest in Venice and a Muslim imam in Sarajevo — who hid it from the Nazis in the library of his mosque during World War II after it was smuggled out of the Bosnian National Museum by its chief librarian.

Ključo developed her composition during a residency at Yellow Barn in Putney, Vermont, basing her music on the scales and rhythms that Sephardic Jews and Bosnians share, and relating the “exodus” of the Haggadah to her own flight from Bosnia. Seth Knopp, the pianist for the project, is executive director of Yellow Barn.

The piece is divided into a dozen movements that follow the Haggadah’s journey from Spain to Bosnia, including “La Convivencia,” the idealized, four-century period when Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived in peace under Moorish rule in Medieval Spain; “Al Mora,” based on the book’s illustration showing a Moorish woman at a Seder table; “Alhambra Decree,” the expulsion of Jews in 1492 under pain of death; the book’s journey to Italy and its preservation by a priest of the Inquisition; its survival of the Nazi regime and the 1992 Siege of Sarajevo; and a concluding benediction by a mother who had never learned Hebrew and considered Ladino to be her Jewish language. Read the review at

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