Solo string quintet (with principal violin) & orchestra
Hebrew songs of love, hope and survival
On and off I worked on this composition over a period of a couple of years, only latterly putting all the elements together and attempting to make a single movement work of around 35 minutes long. I have made use of half a dozen principal themes including a melody from the Warsaw ghetto which underpins the entire work, a Jewish wedding dance and some traditional tunes, as well as several other less dominant Chassidic melodies. The themes that I picked are all of unknown origin (folksongs). The texts which accompany all of these except the wedding dance are religious aspirations, praising God, affirming belief, invoking the power of God to defeat enemies and build Jerusalem. My settings of the themes are very free, entirely tonal but using very rich and chromatic harmony, and transforming the character of the themes according to my whim. I completed the first full draft on June 25th, 2010. It has since had some minor revisions.
The principal themes I have used are as follows:
ANI MA'AMIN - this is a melody from the Warsaw ghetto with the following text: "I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah. And even though he delay, still I believe"
TSUR MISHELO - a Ladino folk tune
Y'MEI HACHANUKA - a folk song "the Days of Chanuka..."
NIGUN ATIK - a Jewish wedding dance
AV HARACHAMIM - traditional, with liturgical text: "Father of compassion, do good with thy will to Zion. Build Thou the walls of Jerusalem for in Thee alone we trusted, O Kimg,God, exalted and high, Lord of all worlds"
YIGDAL - a traditional Hebrew melody for a text written around 1300 by Daniel ben Judah, Dayan, based on creed of Maimonides: 'Exalted be the living God....' This theme is reminiscent of the main theme in Smetana's Ma Vlast [My Country]. Actually the melody has also been adapted from the original into a processional hymn, by M.Leoni in 1770. The text was also slightly adapted [by T.Olivers, 1725 - 1799] to become "The God of Abraham praise/ Who reigns enthroned above,/ Ancient of everlasting days,/ And God of Love:" etc. It is hymn no.398 in Songs of Praise, and the first audiofile below shows what it sounds like [scored for string orchestra].
In the last main section, where I introduce yet more Chassidic & other traditional Hebrew themes, I portray in an abstract way the Warsaw uprising, making use of the principal theme of this work, the anonymous melody from the Ghetto, in combination with other themes. The work ends with the solo violin, as at the beginning. What began as a probing research into the character of Hebrew traditional music has been very inspirational for me - the composing has flowed well, but each section has been refined and refined, over and over, and the overall work exceeds thirty minutes - thus becoming the longest single movement I have written to date. It is not just a medley, being conceived on a far more cohesive, integral basis, with an abstract philosophical narrative connecting together themes in an attempt to unleash the full emotive and spiritual power of the deep Jewish culture and its survival despite the unimaginably awful history of persecution and suffering especially in the twentieth century.
I have also made use of the following themes:
YISM'CHU - Chassidic liturgy
LICHVOD HASHABAT - another Chassidic melody, based on L'cha Dodi, welcome of the Sabbath
GILU HAGALILIM - folk song ["Be happy, Galileans, heroes of valour; rejoice and be glad day and night"]
And there are a further four or five melodies I have included - actually many of the themes are very similar to each other, and there are multiple opportunities for combining motifs in rich counterpoint. I have enjoyed composing my own counter-melodies too, and have worked hard to create my own particular sound world: distinct and often very unexpected harmonic progressions; rhythmic patterns that set sections apart; a strong violin solo lead throughout the work, like a concerto; and rich textural underlays.
The final section was completed in a concentrated few days in June, 2010 - albeit in a draft form as I subsequently examined and revised many parts, though only slightly. There is a conscious sense of the 1943 uprising and, in spite of the subsequent annihilation of just about everyone there, the cultural force prevails beyond the tragedy. Whilst I am not drawing comparisons between 1943 and present day occupied territories in any specific ways, I do see the terrible sadness of the oppressed, the disposessed, folk who by an accident of time-and-place find themselves unable to flourish, to achieve fulfilment, to build upon and celebrate their own culture. And I see hatred and contempt as barriers to the possibility of peace, of reconciliation. And this hatred exists between people who are essentially the same as each other! - humankind, sentient beings, all alike seeking the abundance of life, all alike yearning for love and security, all alike needful of a homeland, all alike proud builders of cultural richnesses, yet too often some prefer instead to use terrible violence against people and peoples.... in whose name, by what moral authority, to what aim? And these people have the arrogance to presume that they know that their God supports their actions!
The only path to peace is through respect for and understanding of cultural differences. The common aim of mankind is to survive, with enough to spare to build a civilised place in which to be able to enjoy surviving. Happiness is a product of plenteousness, of loving relationships, of security, of creativity, of harmony. Compassion is the greatest of human characteristics, and this is shaped by empathy; there was no compassion in the pogroms of the past couple of centuries, and there is no compassion in suicide bombing, armed settlements, check points, tearing up of olive groves, firing of rockets, invasions, abductions, imprisonment, beatings and torture. There will never be peace through the use of force, never. Peace will only come through reconciliation, respect, and empathy.
The Hebrew theme adapted by M.Leoni: Songs of Praise - hymn no. 398