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ClassicsOnline Home » SACRED SERVICES FROM ISRAEL
“Their music is southern, suffused with brilliant light, like the air of the Mediterranean lands, translucent, striving for clarity—”
This description of the “Mediterranean style” in music comes from the eminent critic Max Brod, and it applies to varying degrees to the three sacred services featured here by Israeli composers Paul Ben-Haim, Marc Lavry, and Yehezkel Braun. The popularity of their music owes much to the novelty of exotic sounds, idioms, and reflections of the land of Israel and of the wider Jewish orient, all finely crafted in the beloved forms of the Western classical tradition. This is spiritual music that easily transports the heart and senses to the Holy Land. All three services were commissioned and premiered in the United States.
By Giv Cornfield, Ph.D
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics
SACRED SERVICE FROM ISRAEL
The Composers and Their Milieu
Exemplars of a New Israeli Style
PAUL BEN-HAIM [Frankenburger; 1897–1984] and MARC LAVRY [Marcus Levin; 1903–1967] were two of the most successful and most prominent composers in Israel, dating from their involvement in the musical life of the y'shuv (the Jewish settlement in Palestine during the British Mandate). On the international music scene, they were the composers most often associated with the embrace of indigenous eastern Mediterranean and Near Eastern musical elements and influences within the context of Western forms—a synthesis that became emblematic of the new cultivated art music of modern Israel.
The Mediterranean Style
Of all their contemporaries in the music establishment of the y'shuv, and then in Israel, Ben-Haim and Lavry were the two whose music—through at least the 1960s—was the most frequently performed in America. Their popularity derived in large measure from the novelty of exotic sounds, idioms, and reflections of the land of Israel and of the wider Jewish orient, all clothed in more familiar and relatively conservative Western formal garb. That brew was fermented within the context of a quest for a musical aesthetic that would characterize the spirit of Jewish national regeneration in an environment foreign to the cultural sensibilities of the European settlers in Israel. This came to be known as the Mediterranean style, or "Mediterraneanism." Perceived as the road to a distinctive collective ethos that could in turn form an appropriate signature music of modern Israel, it was a much-heralded development, of which Ben-Haim and Lavry were leading exemplars.
Credit for the concept behind this new national style, as well as its Mediterranean label, was assigned in 1951 by critic and writer Max Brod to Alexander Uria Boskovich (1907–64), also one of Israel's leading immigrant composers of that era. Boskovich, who immigrated to the y'shuv from Romania (Transylvania) after studies in Vienna and Paris, achieved recognition as one of the first composers formally and ideologically to address the issue of a collective Jewish national style. He is believed to have dubbed the effort "Mediterranean," but he appears not to have used that label in any of his writings.
For its melodic sources, rhythmic impulses, and modal flavorings, the Mediterranean style drew upon Arabic, Druse, Circassian, Turkish, and Bedouin wellsprings, in addition to the many diverse traditions of North African, eastern Mediterranean, central Asian, and Near Eastern Jews living in Palestine. Perhaps less directly, it was also nourished by the sounds of nature with which the region pulsated. Thus did European émigré composers often respond to surrounding pressure as well as to internal impetus as they related musically to the unique character of the Jewish ancestral land and its richly variegated folk melos.
On the other hand, many composers came to Palestine solidly grounded in the canon of European art music; they had not anticipated, during their student days or afterward, becoming geographically or culturally uprooted. With few exceptions, whatever their individual backgrounds, orientations, or sympathies, they would not have thought of themselves as "Zionists" (Ben-Haim and Lavry included) prior to immigration—especially in the nonvicarious sense of the label that appertained then. Thus, despite their welcome in the y'shuv as refugees from the persecutions in or related to the Third Reich, many of them felt a sense of cultural displacement for some time.
Maintaining a clutch on links to their common European musical heritage—in the guise of formal structures, techniques, compositional devices, and performance forces—could provide an effective balm for the trauma of cultural disorientation. From external perspectives, even as the newly "Mediterranean-oriented" composers willingly relinquished Europe as their exclusive source for musical substance, their music could still resonate with classical music audiences in the y'shuv—which were essentially European in makeup or cultural origin, dating to one immigration wave (aliya) or another.
This Mediterranean style, then, for all its melodic, modal, and rhythmic reliance upon the East, was never severed from its European anchor nor isolated from the Western classical continuum. Instrumentation remained confined to European standards—without forays into ethnomusicological-organological experiments. Basic tonal skeletal traits, even within opposing modalities, were generally upheld on balance; and the standard ensemble types and performance norms were preserved. Perhaps most significant in the long run was the retention of the basic counterpart forms that were enshrined in the Western canon: the string quartet (and similar chamber music structures); the symphony, along with related but less structurally rigorous symphonic suites, sonatas, concertos, songs and song cycles, and cantatas; and, as in the case of Lavry and others, even opera. And when Arabic and other Eastern open-ended, continuously flowing, and improvisational models were confronted, they were refracted through the lenses of established European forms rather than engendering new structures uninhibited by Western practice.
This was not the first time Jewish composers had wrestled with the establishment of a Jewish national art music. Earlier, in the first decade of the 20th century, composers affiliated with the Gesellschaft für Jüdische Volksmusik (Society for Jewish Folk Music) in St. Petersburg (with branches in other cities in the Czarist Empire) had turned to Jewish folklore and folk music as a source for a new Jewish national approach to composition. The paths, goals, motivating forces, and artistic substance, however, diverged sharply and fundamentally between the two episodes.
In the Russian case, Zionist sensibilities had influenced the awakening to Jewish national-cultural consciousness and identity in certain urban-intellectual circles, where an interest arose in identifying, preserving, and ultimately assimilating Jewish folklore and folkloristic properties into art music. And, as in Palestine, the lure of the exotic—although a very different type of exotica—played a major role. But the aesthetics were primarily eastern European, heavily tilted in the secular realm toward Yiddish and Hassidic folksong—the very musical materials that dedicated young Zionists, once they had arrived in Palestine to settle the land, wished urgently (though perhaps rashly) to leave behind as unwanted reminders of, in their minds, a subservient Diaspora Jewry.
The Russian-Jewish national music movement represented a type of ethnic-cultural nationalism even though it never precluded individual political Zionist leanings or activities. Unlike the new national style toward which the proponents of Mediterraneanism would aim in the y'shuv, the Russian experience was not bound up inseparably with the land of Israel and its environs. Individual Gesellschaft composers (for example, Joel Engel, 1868–1927, appropriately considered by some the first serious modern Israeli composer) could and did give occasional, subtly treated nods to perceived Near Eastern clichés or "orientalism," but those moments in a few songs are more a matter of device than style, and other Gesellschaft composers did not necessarily think in similar terms. The Russian episode revolved not so much around a specific preordained set of semiotic materials, nor around stylistic considerations, but around a principle. In accord with that principle, just as Czech, Bohemian, Moravian, Finnish, Russian, and other ethnically distinct 19th-century composers had chosen to do with respect to their individual folk music traditions, Russian-Jewish composers believed that a similar Jewish national art music could be built by drawing on Jewish folklore (although the Society affiliates concerned themselves only with some, albeit major, aspects of world Jewish folklore).
The movement in Russia did not seek to formulate or advance any particular style. Indeed, it would be impossible to construct, as did Brod with regard to the Mediterranean style, any compact defining list of stylistic traits or characteristics common to the music of even its most exemplary composers: for example, Joel Engel, Joseph Achron, Lazare Saminsky, Mikhail Gniessen, Solomon Rosowsky, Jacob Weinberg, Alexander Krein, or Moses Milner. The only common factor was their incorporation—in a variety of individual ways—of historically Jewish (or perceived so) source derivations, sacred or secular.
What emanated from the Gesellschaft was, in reality, a school, not a style. The same has been alleged by some critics with respect to the concept of Mediterraneanism in the land of Israel. To some detractors it appears more a practice than a style, although distinctive features are audible even to the layman throughout much of its repertoire. But if this is a matter on which reasonable people can disagree, no similar debate is likely to be generated by any reconsideration of the Gesellschaft episode; no one ever claimed that school to have created a pervasive style per se.
The notion of musical irrelevance in the context of physical relocation—viz., with respect to previous styles—was not at issue in St. Petersburg. In the y'shuv, however, the ideological question concerning new music seemed to be one of musical appropriateness to an entirely new geographic and cultural environment. And that concern bespoke a typically modern Zionist perspective (though now pretty much passé) concerning cultural relevance vis-à-vis Jewish modernity—a perspective framed by dialectics of old versus young, religiously backward versus progressively secular, outmoded and unmodern versus dynamic and new aesthetic sensibilities appropriate to the new Jewish worldview embraced by the Zionist ideal.
These two very different approaches to, and conceptions of, a Jewish national art music diverged on yet another, more elusive yet significant plane of geography. In their quest, the Russian Jewish composers of the Gesellschaft milieu were concerned with Jewish melos, language, and other folkloric properties that had flourished for many generations in large outlying regions of the Czarist Empire (and, by extension, in Yiddish-speaking areas of the Hapsburg Empire). But their creative reflections in their music did not extend beyond cultural considerations to include geographical, climatic, or topical parameters of those regions; nor were those composers interested equally—as composers—in the musics of the neighboring or host peoples in those regions.
To the contrary, the Mediterranean style—to the extent that we can accept its collective attributes as a style—might be understood as a Jewish musical nationalism inherently grounded in a particular geography: the landscape of the land of Israel and its surrounding Near Eastern geographical as well as cultural contexts. The effect of landscape upon composers in the y'shuv was acknowledged there by the early 1930s, especially in the broadest sense of that landscape—not only its physical and topographical, but its aural, atmospheric, archaeological, and myriad other intangible features in "the length and breadth of the land" as well. "What are the features that are common to works written in this [Mediterranean] style?" asked Brod rhetorically as a prelude to his reply, in part necessarily subjective, in part as amorphous as any attempt to describe musical style, and in part factual:
Their music is southern, suffused within brilliant light, like the air of the Mediterranean lands, translucent, striving for clarity—its rhythms love harshness, an irregular pulse, and ostinato repetition, but also that variation technique that never stands still, sweeping all before it with its seeming irregularity and impulsive freedom.
Movements are often linear in structure, certain passages are written in unison, with no polyphonic pretensions. There is no mistaking the influence exercised by the melos of the Yemenite Jews, the abandonment of major-minor tonalities, the recourse to older modes, the neglect of the augmented second so characteristic of the Diaspora.… Climate and landscape, the shepherd's song, oboe and clarinet all play a part. The accompaniment of timpano and tambourine, whether real or merely suggested, merely imaginative, gives many of these structures … a monotonous, not to say strangely narcotic stamp.
In his retrospective account of music among the Jews in Palestine prior to the War of Independence, Israeli musicologist Jehoash Hirshberg becomes one of those critics who challenges Mediterraneanism as a coherent style. For him it was—is—"nothing more than an aggregate of rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic patterns and types which were semiotically loaded through their recurrent use in some of the compositions of the 1930s and 1940s." Yet he acknowledged that such works were, by virtue of those evocative components, highly communicative—gradually acquiring the Mediterranean stylistic label and, eventually, the descriptive umbrella of "Israeli music." All of that may be true to one degree or another, and of course, the description applies at best—even as used by its adherents—only to some composers of the era. Others, such as Joseph Tal [Gruenthal; b. 1910], avoided the transparent ethnicity of that path in pursuit of international 20th-century styles and idioms. Nonetheless, for the music and the composers generally identified within the Mediterranean rubric, those semiotic arsenals of musically derivative materials—when assimilated into Western forms with techniques that appear to have been adapted expressly for that purpose—can provide a recognizable character. Whether that amounts to a "style," as opposed to a practice, might be semantic disputation. That there is much variety and individuality among the works of composers commonly viewed under the Mediterranean glass only speaks to their talents as original artists—not necessarily to a fiction of taxonomy.
Certainly it can be conceded that the Mediterranean rubric has been abused; yet no more appropriate toponymy has emerged to take its place. It is difficult enough to reduce to words any clarification of so abstract a thing as musical style or type, especially without accompanying aural illustrations at every juncture. And indeed there are theorists and critics who decry all descriptive categorization of music as artificial in principle. Still, there are times when a simple, minimally worded but imperfect embracive tag is needed to transmit an understanding or appreciation—even if it risks oversimplification. Here, the Mediterranean designation can be useful in signifying a Near Eastern musical inclusiveness within an intended twin context of Western structural comfort and general audience appeal.
PAUL BEN-HAIM was born in Munich, where he began his musical studies at the age of nine, studying violin and, later, piano, harmony, and counterpoint. His family—the Frankenburgers—though not committed to religious or ritual observances, identified with the Liberal Jewish community there. His mother came from a completely assimilated family, many of whom were converts to Christianity. But his father (whose own father had been an occasional lay cantor in the local synagogue in Ühlfeld, in Franconia) was active in local Jewish affairs from time to time. According to Ben-Haim's recollections, his father attended the major Liberal synagogue in Munich with some regularity, often bringing the young Paul; and prior to the First World War he held an honorary office as deputy president of the Munich Jewish Community (Israelitische Kultusgemeinde München). Shortly after beginning his piano and composition studies at the Akademie der Tonkunst in Munich, Ben-Haim was called up for army service and fought at the French and Belgian fronts. By that time he had been composing intensely and, for his age, prolifically, with a particular focus on lieder. When he resumed his conservatory studies after the armistice, he became a composition student of Friedrich Klose, who had been a pupil of Bruckner, and he pursued conducting as well.
Between 1920 and 1924 Ben-Haim was an assistant conductor at the Bavarian State Opera, where he worked under Bruno Walter and Hans Knappertsbusch. After that he conducted the Augsburg Opera until 1931. Between 1926 and his immigration to Palestine, in 1933, he wrote a number of choral as well as solo Psalm settings and motets on biblical texts (Isaiah, Ecclesiastes, Job)—all in German. Although his biographer has alluded to some of these pieces as "works of Jewish character and content," no evidence is provided to the effect that they were so intended; it is difficult to see them as anything other than biblical expressions well within the western European art music tradition, notwithstanding the composer's obvious interaction with the spiritual significance of their texts. Many truly Judaic and Judaically inspired works were to come, but only after his aliya. Indeed, Ben-Haim described his biblical motets as "religious music in the widest sense, without a specific liturgical purpose."
Ben-Haim was befriended in Germany by the Jewish composer Heinrich Schalit (1886–1976), who was born in Vienna but lived and worked in Munich beginning in 1907. Schalit, unlike Ben-Haim at that stage, developed solid and overt Zionist sympathies—which he expressed artistically through his settings of poetry by Yehuda Halevi extolling the primacy of "the East" (read Jerusalem and the Holy Land) for Jews. Schalit, who turned his attention increasingly to Judaically related as well as specifically functional liturgical music, became the organist and choral director in 1927 at Munich's prestigious Liberal synagogue (the Great Synagogue), where he worked with the brilliant cantor and cantorial composer Emmanuel Kirschner. Following Schalit's immigration to the United States, he became one of America's most important synagogue composers—especially in the Reform arena. Despite their mutual respect and admiration, he was unsuccessful in his several attempts to persuade Ben-Haim to contribute his gifts to synagogue music, or at least to Jewish expression. "I felt it my duty," Schalit reflected, "to try to convince him of the need to channel his talent into the music of the Jewish culture." Ben-Haim did conduct a concert of Schalit's Halevi songs, and in 1928 Schalit's songs and a trio by Ben-Haim were programmed together. Even though Ben-Haim did not surrender to Schalit's pressure, preferring to perceive himself artistically as historically and culturally German, Schalit always felt that he had at least "kindled the Jewish flame" in him—a flame that would blaze and radiate his art for more than four decades.
Following his abrupt termination from the Augsburg Opera in 1931, Ben-Haim was unable to find a similar full-time post elsewhere in Europe, and he could concertize or present his own works only on a one-off basis. He attempted to ignore or overlook the growing anti-Semitism during that period, but after the virtual handover of power to the National Socialists in 1933 through their invitation into the government—his sense of alienation further fueled by the launching of anti-Jewish restrictions and other persecutions—he determined to emigrate. The party's perverse racial views vis-à-vis music and musicians—especially with respect to Jews—had been made known in print even before the 1932 elections that led to Hitler's appointment as chancellor and the National Socialists' assumption of complete power. Now the musicians' union ordered its branches to oppose "racially foreign phenomena, Communist elements, and people known to be associated with Marxism"—i.e., largely "Jews," as Ben-Haim was no doubt astute enough to read it. Moreover, his partially "neo-Baroque" Concerto Grosso was premiered in Chemnitz in March 1933, only to elicit a comment in the local press condemning the management of the orchestra for permitting it to perform a work by a Jew. In a 1971 autobiographical sketch published in Israel, Ben-Haim defined that incident as the decisive moment in his decision to emigrate. Possibly influenced by Schalit, he gave first consideration to Palestine and made an exploratory trip there two months later.
On that preliminary trip Paul Frankenburger changed his name to Paul Ben-Haim—not out of a Zionist cultural incentive to Hebraicize it, but simply to avoid detection by the British authorities for performing concerts, which was a violation of the "no-employment" provision of his temporary visa. Having determined that he could probably make a living and at least survive artistically in the y'shuv, he returned to Germany to organize his actual immigration—which occurred in late autumn 1933.
Of the composers who eventually made up the hard core of the "establishment" in the y'shuv or in the early decades of the state, and who contributed mightily to the rich musical life there, several were, like Ben-Haim, German Jews who emigrated directly from Germany. Erich Walter Sternberg (1891–1974) preceded Ben-Haim by two years, but Ben-Haim was the first German-Jewish composer of any significance to arrive in Palestine following the installation of the National Socialist regime. There followed Karel Shalmon [Karl Salomon; 1899–1974], Hanoch [Heinrich] Jacoby (1909–90), Joseph Tal, and Haim [Heinz] Alexander (b. 1915). Others who were not German born and hailed from various countries in Central or eastern Europe can—by virtue of study as well as professional life in Germany for some formative period—be considered products of the German cultural orbit and musical sphere. To that category may belong Odeon Partos (1907–77), originally from Budapest but from Berlin since 1929, and Marc Lavry.
Ben-Haim's association with Bracha Zefira (1910–90), the famous Yemenite Jewish folksinger who had a seminal impact on Israel's cultural life, had a fortuitous influence on the development of his own musical language. Between 1939 and 1949 he was Zafira's accompanist for concerts. He also arranged many of the songs she introduced to him, and he quoted from them in some of his orchestral works. Apart from specific songs, the stylistic imprint of her Yemenite, Bokharian, Persian, Arabic, Ladino, and other eastern Mediterranean, North African, and Near Eastern Jewish repertoires is apparent in much of his oeuvre—especially insofar as it reflects characteristic modalities, ornamentation, evocative embellishments, and other semiotic patterns and motifs.
Though he arrived in Palestine with no illusions of instant success—in fact with serious concerns about competing for remunerative work—let alone of artistic acknowledgment in a world to which he was an unknown newcomer, Ben-Haim eventually achieved recognition beyond anything he would have imagined. He served as president of the Israel Composers League in 1948, and he taught at the Jerusalem Academy of Music (1949–54), though he declined an invitation to become its director. He also taught at the Shulamith Conservatory in Tel Aviv. But his role in influencing future serious composers involved private tutorials in his home. One of his first composition students to attain a position of prominence among the second generation of Israeli composers was Ben-Zion Orgad [Büschel; b. 1926]. In 1945, for his first symphony (1940), Ben-Haim shared the Tel Aviv municipality's annual prize in memory of the composer Joel Engel with Mordecai Seter [Starominsky; 1916–94]. (Seter's winning work was his Sabbath Cantata. An honorary prize was also awarded to Solomon Rosowsky [1878–1962], Engel's colleague in Russia in the activities of the Gesellschaft für Jüdische Volksmusik.)
In 1953 Ben-Haim was again awarded the Engel prize—for his second symphony, about which Brod wrote, it "satisfies to a high degree our longing for an explicitly Jewish music." And in 1957 Ben-Haim received the coveted Israel Prize—the nation's most prestigious award for achievement in the arts, science, scholarship, and public service—for his orchestral suite with soloists, The Sweet Psalmist of Israel, which had been commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation. By that time he had become one of the few Israeli composers to enjoy a truly international reputation. His catalogue as Ben-Haim—viz., following his aliya in 1933—includes nearly 150 works (in addition to the more than 100 pieces he composed while still in Germany). These encompass numerous other orchestral pieces; solo sonatas, suites, and concertos; chamber music for a variety of combinations; many original songs as well as arrangements; individual choral settings; and larger-scale choral cantatas. Notable in the last category are The Vision of a Prophet (Ezekiel 37), which includes a male speaking choir in addition to other choral, solo, and orchestral forces; Liturgical Cantata, which comprises concert settings of liturgical texts; and Hymn from the Desert—on texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls—commissioned by the America-Israel Cultural Foundation. His oratorio Joram, completed in Germany shortly before his decision to leave, received its premiere in Jerusalem in 1979 in a Hebrew version by David Frischmann. It is an intensely spiritual, even religious, but in no way Judaic work based on Rudolf Borchardt's Das Buch Joram, and Ben-Haim is said throughout his life to have considered it his magnum opus.
To acknowledge his role in kneading the dough and molding the material for one prong of a Mediterranean approach—one with his distinctive stamp and that of his time and environment—is not, as some would fear, to reduce the aggregate product of Israeli composers of that era to a dogmatic, artificially academic, or chauvinistic monolithic style. Ben-Haim was neither an ethnomusicologist nor a folklore collector, and he never claimed that personal systematic field research among ethnically distinct communities constituted the source of his compositional ingredients. He relied instead, as did most of the Israeli composers associated with the Mediterranean sobriquet, on secondary—i.e., concert—performances, which in his case involved principally his close work with Bracha Zefira, and to some extent on notated collections. Some revisionists have suggested that because he relied only on such secondary transmission of indigenous properties—and therefore they could not have gestated within him—he did not actually contribute to modeling a style. This may be an exercise in summoning a purely academic adversarial argument out of the aurally obvious. One cannot dismiss the transparency of assimilated eastern Mediterranean and Near Eastern elements in Ben-Haim's music or that of some of his contemporaries. That is not to say he necessarily operated as an ethnological theorist. As a composer of his time and place, he naturally reflected his atmosphere, absorbing its ubiquitous sounds in his own music. Of the intersecting albeit individual stylistic planes of Israel's musical creativity during that period, Ben-Haim's was certainly one. That it represents a natural rather than a contrived process need not preclude its perception as one Israeli style.
MARC LAVRY was born in Riga, Latvia, but he received his major musical education in Germany. He studied composition at the Leipzig Conservatory with Paul Graener, and conducting privately with Hermann Scherchen and Bruno Walter. He also studied architecture at the Technical College in Oldenburg. After two years as conductor at the opera house in Saarbrücken, he went to Berlin, where he became music director and conductor for Rudolf von Laban's dance theater. He wrote music for Max Reinhardt's theatrical productions and for films, and in 1929 he assumed the post of conductor of the Berliner Sinfonieorchester (Berlin City Symphony Orchestra).
During his years in Germany, Lavry began to address Jewish subjects in some of his music. His orchestral piece, Hassidic Dance (Op. 22) and his Jewish Suite for string quartet (or string orchestra) were both premiered in Berlin in 1930 and 1931 respectively. He also evinced an interest at that stage in artistic conceptions of other folksong traditions, as demonstrated by his Variations on a Latvian Folksong (Op. 11), which received its premiere by the Berliner Sinfonieorchester.
Lavry returned to Riga in 1933, two months after the National Socialists assumed power in Germany. The following year, the Riga Radio Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra gave the performance of his symphonic poem Ahasverus, the Eternal Jew, written the same year. But in the wake of the Fascist coup there, he determined to emigrate permanently. He had not become involved with Zionism, so that Palestine represented only one out of several options for him; he briefly considered both the United States and Russia as well. Like Ben-Haim, he made an exploratory trip to Palestine, after which he decided on aliya. He and his wife arrived there to settle in 1935. He was able to extend his otherwise temporary visa through the political department of the Jewish Agency for Palestine on the grounds that he was composing incidental music for the Ha'Ohel Theatre in Tel Aviv.
Within his first year in the y'shuv, Lavry wrote a symphonic poem for string orchestra, Al naharot bavel (By the Rivers of Babylon), programmatically related to Psalm 137 and the Babylonian Captivity. However, he came to straddle the line between art music and popular folk-oriented song. He not only incorporated indigenous folk material and echoes in his concert pieces—on the "Mediterranean" model—but he also composed original folk-type songs, the first of which was his Shir ha'emek (Song of the Valley [emek]), which referred to the Jezreel Valley in the north and evoked and celebrated the pioneering spirit of land reclamation and agricultural settlement there. He then developed it into a symphonic poem, titled simply Emek, which became one of his best-known pieces. It was premiered by the Palestine Symphony Orchestra—the first time it programmed a work by any y'shuv composer—and was later included in its first world tour as the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. A preview of the premiere in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz dubbed it the "first symphonic hora"—referring to the quintessential emblematic modern Israeli folk dance pattern that pervades the piece.
There followed Lavry's oratorio Shir hashirim (Song of Songs, 1940), and his opera Dan hashomer (Dan the Watchman, 1945), premiered by the Palestine Folk Opera and generally considered the first Hebrew opera composed in the y'shuv to be produced in Israel (Palestine). Written to a libretto by Max Brod and based on Shin Shalom's play Shots on the Kibbutz, the opera was produced thirty-three times in eight cities and towns in Palestine. Throughout the music Lavry juxtaposes eastern European musical clichés and motifs against Near Eastern ones as a way of representing distinctions, almost as typological leitmotifs, between the older generation of immigrants from eastern Europe and the young generation of pioneers and kibbutz workers.
Lavry conducted the Palestine Folk Opera from 1941 until 1947. From 1950 until 1958 he was music director of Kol Tziyon Lagola (The Voice of Zion to the Diaspora), a short-wave radio network that broadcast to Jewish communities outside Israel.
Also among Lavry's important works are four symphonies; four additional oratorios; two piano concertos; violin and viola concertos; chamber music for various small combinations; Songs of Israel, a children's cantata; From Dan to Beersheba, a concert overture for orchestra; theater, ballet, and other dance music; Carmel, a symphonic poem; many songs; numerous orchestral arrangements of popular melodies and songs; and another opera, Tamar.
YEHEZKEL BRAUN (b. 1922), who can be considered a representative of the generation of Israeli composers immediately following that of Ben-Haim and Lavry, was born in Breslau—historically and culturally, as well as politically at that time, part of Germany, but now Wrocław, Poland. Two years later his parents emigrated to Palestine, where he began his musical studies at an early age. At the Israel Academy of Music (formerly the Rubin Academy and now the Buchman-Mehta School of Music) he studied with Alexander Boskovich. Braun also earned a master's degree in classics (Greek and Latin philology) at Tel Aviv University.
Braun has harbored a lifelong interest in both Hebrew and Gregorian chant. In 1975 he spent a year at the Benedictine Monastery at Solesmes, France, studying Gregorian chant there with Dom Jean Claire, one of its leading authorities. In 1966 he became a professor of music at Tel Aviv University, a post he held until his retirement.
Braun's twin interest in liturgical chant and Jewish folk music is reflected in many of his compositions. Among his important works inspired by Jewish subjects or Judaic themes are Psalm for Strings (1960) and Illuminations to the Book of Ruth (1966), an orchestral piece. His catalogue includes many other choral and orchestral works, chamber music, lieder, and music for theater, film, and dance. In addition to the Hallel Service recorded here, he has composed a number of other liturgical works on commission from American synagogues. These include a Sabbath evening service; V'haya … (And It Shall Come to Pass), on verses from Isaiah; Shir Hama'alot, a setting of ten Psalms for vocal quartet and string quintet; and other Psalm settings. Braun has written analytical studies of melody and modality, and he has published Hebrew translations of classical Greek poetry. He also compiled and edited an anthology of traditional Jewish melodies. In 2001 he was awarded the Israel Prize for music.
Neil W. Levin
Paul Ben-Haim: KABBALAT SHABBAT—Friday Evening Service (excerpts)
In the summer of 1966 the Jerusalem Joint Center for Action in the Diaspora sent Ben-Haim to America to participate as a kind of "artist-in-residence" in a special project within a summer camp program of the National Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY)—the youth wing of the American Reform movement. That project, called Arts in Judaism, was initiated by Cantor Raymond Smolover, who was then the executive vice president of the American Conference of Cantors—the national association of cantors serving Reform pulpits. Many prominent artists and writers had been similarly involved with the project, whose purpose Smolover described as "not only to develop the talents of gifted young people whose contributions will enrich synagogue life in the coming years, but also to make a lively community where creative artists and men of religion discover how each group can reinforce the other."
As part of his interaction with the program, NFTY commissioned Ben-Haim to compose a formal, full-length Sabbath eve service—one that could find use in Reform synagogues for actual worship. Thus was born his Kabbalat Shabbat, written according to the liturgical format of the Union Prayerbook, which at that time was still the official and nearly exclusive prayerbook of American Reform.
The title is misleading. This is primarily not a kabbalat shabbat service, even though it incorporates two abbreviated texts from that liturgy. In origin as well as current traditional practice, kabbalat shabbat (welcoming the Sabbath) is a distinct service that not only precedes arvit l'shabbat—the Sabbath eve, or Friday evening service—but actually commences just before sundown at the end of the day on Friday. Although the conclusion of kabbalat shabbat is usually followed directly by arvit l'shabbat, the two liturgies are independent, with no element of one appearing in the other. However, the Union Prayerbook did not distinguish between the two services; nor has American Reform been concerned historically (unlike its counterparts in other countries, e.g., Great Britain) with the actual time of sundown on the eve of Sabbaths or holy days. Thus the format Ben-Haim addressed was one that incorporated and intermingled elements of both liturgies into a single Sabbath eve service.
Psalm 98 and l'kha dodi are two of the texts in the Union Prayerbook that are drawn from the traditional kabbalat shabbat service; the other prayer texts of Ben-Haim's service, with the exception of Lighting of the Sabbath Candles, have their origins in the Sabbath eve service proper. Curiously, l'kha dodi is called Sabbath Hymn in his score, an appellation that applies as a literary term to the poem, but not—in its usage in the realm of sacred music—to the same sung text within the order of the liturgy. The tune to which its refrain is set was adapted from an old melody the composer understood to have been sung by Sephardi Jews in Israel to the unrelated poem Y'did nefesh (Beloved of My Soul [God]). This poem, with its origins in kabbalistic mysticism, was not generally familiar to American Jewry (Reform or traditional)—outside Hassidic circles, where it has long been recited—until the 1960s, when it was encountered in Israel by the increasing numbers of American Jewish visitors. The melody is published in an important Sephardi collection edited by Léon Algazi (Chants Séphardis; 1958).
The full text of l'kha dodi as it appears in traditional prayerbooks contains nine stanzas. The truncated version in the Union Prayerbook, however, as set here, retains only the second, fifth, and final stanzas.
The second movement, Lighting of the Sabbath Candles, is a setting of the b'rakha for the traditional home ritual, which American Reform practice incorporated into the synagogue service. A b'rakha (plural, b'rakhot) is a generic term for an anaphoric prayer formula commencing with the phrase barukh ata adonai (You are worshipped, Lord) and proclaiming to God that He is to be worshipped for a particular attribute or for having provided a particular commandment—in this case the rabbinic commandment to light Sabbath candles. Notwithstanding its common but misleading translation as "blessing," or, only a bit less accurate as "benediction," the term b'rakha has no acceptable English equivalent.
Kindling a flame is prohibited on the Sabbath by halakha (Jewish law) as followed by traditionally observant Jews; the candles are lighted, usually at home, just prior to sunset on the eve of the Sabbath. But since the prohibition as a matter of law does not apply in Reform practice, it was possible beginning in the 19th century to include the ritual in Friday evening services, even well after sunset. One of the rationales behind this innovation—apart from aesthetic considerations—was to ensure the retention of this important ceremony, or at least its reflection, at a time when, in the early stages of Reform development, some congregants did not do so at home or were insufficiently able to recite the Hebrew. This is not the only case of home ceremonies or rituals being transferred to the synagogue in America, as a way of preserving them. Even though the home candle-lighting ritual has always been encouraged in Reform practice—even if it is duplicated by public synagogal performance—and even though, by the second half of the 20th century, Sabbath candles were routinely lighted at home by a much larger number of Reform-affiliated households than previously, the ceremony still prevails in the formal worship of many Reform synagogues.
Since the lighting of the Sabbath candles is most commonly associated with the obligation for Jewish women, this setting—like most formal compositions for this b'rakha—specifically calls for a female soloist.
In Ben-Haim's setting of the b'rakha at the end of the prayer mi khamokha, the choir is inexplicably called upon to repeat the cantor's initial three words (barukh ata adonai) as a response. This has no basis from any liturgical standpoint. Nor does such repetition ever constitute a correct response.
Although a formulaic congregational response of different wording (barukh hu uvarukh sh'mo—Worshipped is He and praised be His Name) is properly articulated after that three-word incipit of a b'rakha when uttered by the prayer leader in certain other contexts or services—in sections of morning and afternoon services, for example—there should be no such response in any arvit (evening) service. There (as at other places in the liturgy), congregational or choral responses within b'rakhot are deemed to disrupt the flow of prayer. For reasons that have never been adequately explored from an historical perspective, the misguided application of this response to b'rakhot in the evening service has become an entrenched habit, even in many synagogues where the leadership is aware of its incorrectness. (In classic Reform practice as reflected by the Union Prayerbook, this response at one time was eliminated for all services, although out of other considerations.) The error has been perpetuated in most musical compositions for applicable prayers of evening services, including settings composed in 19th-century Europe by otherwise knowledgeable cantor-composers. That Ben-Haim avoided using that response in this work is admirable. But why he chose to replace it with a choral echo of the three-word incipit of the b'rakha itself—and, more to the point, why he was not advised to remove that repetition—defies explanation.
Equally strange is the license taken by the composer in establishing a reversal of roles between cantor and choir-congregation in the concluding b'rakha of his setting of hashkivenu. The choir intones the b'rakha in its entirety, to which the cantor merely responds "amen"—admittedly original, but without justification.
For the concluding hymn, adon olam, Ben-Haim also turned to folkloric melodic material. He based his setting on motives of a Ladino (Judeo-Espagnol) folksong, Los Gayos (The Cocks), which also appears in the Léon Algazi collection.
Although it is reflected in the Union Prayerbook only by the instruction "Benediction" following the text of adon olam, it has been common practice in American Reform throughout much of the 20th century to conclude Sabbath evening as well as other services with the threefold "priestly blessing," pronounced by the rabbi and/or sung by the choir. This is a formula (y'varekh'kha adonai v'yishm'rekha …; May the Lord bless and keep you …) that derives from the Torah (Numbers 6:24–26). It was also part of the ancient Temple ritual and is part of the statutory morning prayers as well as the ceremony of blessing by the kohanim (priestly descendants), but it is not part of any evening services in traditional rites. These words have also become ubiquitous as an adopted generic benediction in American society—not only in church services (especially Protestant formats) but for secular ceremonial occasions that include nonsectarian clerical benedictions, such as commencement exercises. Although the Reform Sabbath eve quotation of the "priestly benediction" may have faded in recent years, Reform repertoire contains many individual, self-contained choral settings. Ben-Haim, however, creatively joined his setting to adon olam.
He explained in a preface to the published work that he had tried to "set the prayers to music in as simple and modest a style as possible to express the spirit of the Jewish liturgy." Any more complex musical language, he added, was reserved for the organ or instrumental introduction and interludes. Indeed, the choral writing is straightforward throughout and essentially homophonic much of the time. In some sections the four-part chorus in effect sings in two parts, with tenors doubling sopranos and altos doubling the bass lines. Counterpoint is minimal, but cleverly deployed. Particularly effective are the opening passages of hashkivenu, in which the treble voices are in unison doubled by the basses, against which the tenors sing in parallel fourths.
The use of open perfect intervals in combinations—fifths and fourths, sometimes enriched by seconds—is emblematic of the work as a whole. Although these sonorities echo to some extent the perceived aural ambience of the Mediterranean approach, they also echo an overall sound type used frequently by the major composers for the Reform liturgy in the 1940s and 1950s and even early 1960s—composers known to Ben-Haim in Germany, such as Schalit and Herbert Fromm, who had also studied and spent time in Munich, as well as others such as Hugo Chaim Adler, Isidore Freed, and Frederick Piket.
Other imprints of Mediterraneanism in Ben-Haim's service are found in bits of ornamentation—subtly and conservatively employed—and in a diatonic character flavored with simple modalities.
The fifteen-movement service (of which six are excerpted on this recording) is scored for cantor solo (tenor or high baritone), soprano solo, mixed chorus, and an ensemble of flute, English horn (alternating with oboe), trumpet in C, harp, and strings. It was also published in a version for organ accompaniment. It received its premiere in New York in 1968 at a Lincoln Center celebration of Israel's twentieth anniversary, sung by Cantor Raymond Smolover and the Camerata Singers, conducted by Abraham Kaplan. Shortly afterward it was performed as an actual Sabbath worship service at Temple Israel in Boston, conducted by Herbert Fromm.
Following the success of Kabbalat Shabbat, Ben-Haim wrote two additional liturgical pieces: a setting of ma tovu (1970) for baritone and piano (subsequently orchestrated), which was commissioned by the Israel Broadcasting Service; and a 1971 setting of the k'dusha (sanctification), commissioned by Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco for baritone, mixed choir, and organ. This was not his first encounter with that major Reform synagogue, but it was his first composition for its worship services. In 1962 Emanu-El had commissioned three Psalm settings (Sh'losha mizmorei t'hillim) in honor of its cantor, Reuben Rinder.
Ben-Haim's Sabbath eve service could not have been introduced to the contemporary American Synagogue at a more culturally receptive time. In 1968 American Jewry was still pulsating from the euphoria and pride—newly found in some sectors—afforded by Israel's swift victory in the 1967 Six Day War. Suddenly, even among some circles that had previously shown little interest in the modern State of Israel or its culture, a new level of identification emerged.
The American Reform movement had, throughout the 20th century, encompassed and accepted widely divergent and even fiercely opposing views and sympathies with respect to Zionism and, after 1948, to the State of Israel. And that spectrum naturally included varying shades of orientation between the two poles on either end, as well as neutral positions. Despite the existence of those Reform synagogues that enjoined even the mention of Zionism in sermons or reference to Israeli culture in their music as late as the 1960s (the most extreme of which were the small number that, through membership in the American Council for Judaism, vigorously opposed Israel's existence), some of the most important leaders of American Zionism were prominent Reform rabbis—such as Steven S. Wise, Abba Hillel Silver, Arthur J. Lelyveld, and Gustav Gottheil. The showdown in 1967, the realization of the extent to which Israel's survival had been threatened (notwithstanding, of course, the later round of ex post facto, politically motivated revisionist accounts that eventually attend virtually all historical events), as well as the reunification of Jerusalem under Jewish sovereignty, engendered an almost instantly broadened sense of solidarity. Within a short time Israeli flags were displayed alongside American ones in many synagogues where, until then, they would not have been found. Equally significant was the intensified cultural curiosity about all things Israeli, which was largely blind to sectarian divisions among American Jewry. Part of that openness grew out of the emerging younger generations, as exemplified by the enthusiasm in groups such as NFTY. Music by Israeli composers and performances by Israeli artists under the auspices of individual Reform congregations had certainly occurred earlier, and Emanu-El in San Francisco had even commissioned a Sabbath service by Israeli composer Marc Lavry as early as 1958. But none of those incidents attracted national attention to the degree of the Ben-Haim service. That his Kabbalat Shabbat was commissioned not merely by an individual congregation, but by a wing of the Reform movement specifically as an Israeli expression—and that it was premiered at a celebration of Israel's anniversary largely under its sponsorship—was a telling indicator of the extent to which mainstream Reform Zionist sensibilities and affinities with Israel had advanced.
Neil W. Levin
Marc Lavry: SABBATH EVE SACRED SERVICE (excerpts)
Guest essay by Boaz Tarsi
Marc Lavry's Sabbath Eve Sacred Service was commissioned in 1958 by Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, that city's most prestigious Reform synagogue, which had already established its credentials in new liturgical music with its commissions for full-length Sabbath services by Ernest Bloch and Darius Milhaud.
The work as a whole reflects the composer's understanding of both the "new Mediterranean style" and its points of departure from the eastern European traditions—a distinction Lavry uses as a compositional device. His approach throughout the service uses the Israeli-Mediterranean melos most perceptibly, but it is clearly cast into the musical idioms, form, and performance norms of the traditional Askenazi synagogue—of which he was obviously aware. Moreover, some of the compositional techniques of that style are more often used in order to give a musical feeling or reminder of the late Romantic era as well.
The orchestral prelude reflects a purely late-Romantic character, with a few subtle references to biblical cantillation (Ashkenazi motifs for intoning the prophetic readings, or haftara). In the lyrical setting of mizmor shir (tov l'hodot; Psalm 92) one finds the expression of the Mediterranean style in the modal treatment of the harmonic material—the parallel triads and the open fifths both in the chorus and in the accompaniment. These chords and open fifths are combined to create a late-Romantic texture. In the opening words sung by the sopranos (tov l'hodot ladonai) one can detect a trace of a traditional Ashkenazi motif for this section of the kabbalat shabbat (welcoming the Sabbath) service.
In the animated setting of l'kha dodi, the melodic material, presented as a dialogue between a two-part women's chorus and the men in unison, is a modal line reminiscent of many Israeli tunes composed in a "folk style" during the Second and Third Aliya periods, the y'shuv era, and even into the 1950s. Parallel triads are also evident in the setting of bar'khu, the beginning of the core of the evening liturgy (avrit), where a clear announcement-type statement—the prayer leader or cantor's invitation to commence the prayers—is standard. Here, too, the parallel triads combine to create a harmonic texture that is at once late Romantic and modal. Appropriately, they form a fanfare. In this passage and in the succeeding declaration of God's unity in the pronouncement sh'ma yisra'el, Lavry maintains the traditional format of cantor and choral-congregational response, including its declamatory nature—albeit subdued in this interpretation.
Similar references to Ashkenazi liturgical tradition are evident in the setting of v'ahavta. As a biblical quotation, this passage is frequently sung in American synagogues to the chant of the biblical cantillation for the Torah—although this is not a biblical reading per se, but part of k'ri'at sh'ma (a declaration of God's unity), which is part of all morning and evening prayers. This is a fairly recent musical practice. Although the orchestral opening approximates actual cantillations, Lavry does not quote literally. Nonetheless, the musical gestures throughout the section, structured as an interesting duet between cantor and bass, symbolically emulate the style if not the precise content of biblical cantillation.
Modal harmony, parallel chordal motion, and folklike elements are all present in the festive yet lyric mi khamokha and in the contemplative v'sham'ru settings. Just as references are made to biblical cantillation motives in the orchestral opening of v'ahavta, in the opening measures of mi khamokha the orchestra recalls the reference to a traditional motif in the soprano line of mizmor shir—which functions as a unifying device. The boisterous choral setting of yism'hu , evoking the spirit of Sabbath joy contained in the text, is yet another synthesis of late-Romantic style with the rhythmic character and general mood that call to mind the Israeli folk dances of that era.
The works of Israeli-American composer and theorist Boaz Tarsi have been performed and broadcast widely. He has contributed to such publications as Modern Judaism, Asian Music, Musica Judaica, Conservative Judaism, and the Journal of Synagogue Music. He is a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
Yehezkel Braun: HALLEL SERVICE (excerpts)
Braun's Hallel Service was commissioned in 1984 by Congregation B'nai Jeshurun in Minneapolis to celebrate its one hundredth anniversary. Apart from the title (and content) of this particular work, the designation hallel (praise) refers to a section of the liturgy that comprises Psalms 113–118, or verses from these Psalms. These selected Psalms and verses pertain to the theme of collective praise for God and for His attributes of mercy, dependability, and ultimate wisdom, and have therefore been assigned to the liturgy for festive, jubilant occasions. Hallel is recited or sung in the synagogue on the Three Festivals (as well as at the Pesah seder at home), Hanukka, and Rosh Hodesh—the beginning of every Hebrew month, or the "new moon." Hallel can also be recited—in part or in full—as part of a synagogue service to celebrate or mark a special nonreligious or extra-liturgical event—the birthday of a monarch, for example.
Although this work was commissioned for its concert performance to celebrate the synagogue's anniversary, it was also envisioned at the time that it could subsequently be performed for actual hallel services in synagogues that use musical instruments on holy days and have both the requisite resources and the artistic foresight.
Apart from Psalm 114, which is not included among these excerpts but which was based on a traditional North African Hebrew tune, the Psalm settings in this work are entirely original. The two b'rakhot—one preceding and introducing the reciting of hallel, and the other concluding it—however, are based on what Braun refers to as "an old eastern European cantorial mode." Both b'rakhot are introduced by a slowly pulsating passage in the orchestra, over which the cantor intones the words. The eastern European cantorial flavor derives in both cases from the ornamentation.
Psalm 113 presents a vivid contrast to the plaintive cantorial introduction in the immediately preceding b'rakha. Its syncopated rhythms and almost dancelike spirit mirror the human experience of praising God as expressed in the text. The bulk of the Psalm is set according to its strophic, parallel structure. An orchestral repetition of the introduction serves as a coda, in which brass play a decisive role in lending overall brightness.
Psalm 116 features the cantorial soloist in an expression of praise filled with heartfelt emotion, followed by a responsorial interplay between chorus and soloist—a format that dates to ancient psalmody. Solo cello and double bass obbligatos lend an imaginative touch.
Psalm 117 is another jubilant articulation, leading into an extensive interpretation of Psalm 118. The melodic material of the opening section is used as a refrain, structurally reflective of the recurrent way these words, ki l'olam hasdo (for His kindness endures eternally), are sung congregationally in typical synagogue contexts.
This work was premiered in 1984 by Cantor Morton Kula (who had been instrumental in its commission), the choir of B'nai Jeshurun, and the Minnesota Orchestra conducted by Marlys Fiterman. In 1993 it was performed in Israel and broadcast live by Cantor Alberto Mizrahi with the Kibbutz Choir and the Haifa Symphony Orchestra conducted by Stanley Sperber.
Neil W. Levin
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