Fervent researcher and aficionado of Jewish music and Klezmer, the
composer adopts here an expanded tonal language and models his
renditions of the traditional Jewish melodies on the Hungarian
Rhapsodies by Franz Liszt.
The themes featured in this series are laden with centuries of passion,
love, hope and despair. They are the expression of most natural,
sincere and authentic feelings.
They move us directly and are able to speak to anyone at all times.
Melancholy, sorrow, heartache coexist with bright cheerfulness and
happiness in both minor and major modes.
This selection of eight numbers among the vast Ashkenazi music
repertoire includes a number of Klezmer tunes as well.
In some pieces, for instance the "Hanukkah Medley" N.8 and "Purim" N.6,
several related themes are combined and used together. In "Shalom
Aleichem" N.2, both "Shalom Aleichem" melodies are used. Other
Rhapsodies are variations and developments on one single tune except
for "Hora Mamtera" N.3 where three Nigun's are used in the middle
In both spirit and pianistic elaboration, even for the wording of the
title, Hebraic Rhapsodies reflect on the Hungarian Rhapsodies by Franz
Liszt. There is a resemblance, more in spirit than in actual notes,
between Liszt's tunes borrowed from Roman folk culture and the Hebraic
themes. Also the Hungarian musical scale and other scales found in
Gypsy music are close to many Hebraic modes and scales.
Is this music religious or profane? The boundaries are very blurred
here. The religious feelings interact with the profane in the most true
Jewish tradition. No hard and set distinction: in the joy of life we
found the true expression of G-d.
The first piece is "Hava Nagila" (Let us rejoice). This widely famous
tune originates from a "hora-like" dance-song. All through it the
Phrygian minor dominant scale is present, a very common aspect in music
of Balkans. Lyrics are attributed to Abraham Zevi (Zvi) Idelsohn.
Written around 1918 and celebrating the declaration of Balfour. Psalm
118 (verse 24) of the Hebrew Bible is considered the source of the
lyrics: 24 This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice
and be glad in it.
Lyrics (in shortened form): Let's rejoice and be happy; Let's sing and
be happy; Awake brothers with a happy heart.
Next comes "Shalom Aleichem" (Peace be upon you). Shalom Aleichem is
sung to welcome the angels who accompany a person from the Synagogue to
home on the eve of the Sabbath. The Talmud teaches that two angels
accompany a man on his way back home from the synagogue on Friday
night: a good and an evil angel. If the house has been prepared for the
Shabbat the good angel utters a blessing that the next Shabbat will be
the same, and the evil angel is forced to respond "Amen". but if the
home is not prepared for Shabbat, the evil angel expresses the wish
that the next Shabbat will be the same, and the good angel is forced to
respond "Amen". The liturgical text which makes the lyrics is
attributed to Kabbalists of the late 16th century.
Many different melodies have been written for Shalom Aleichem. The
slow, well-known melody was composed by the American composer Samuel E.
Goldfarb and his brother Rabbi Israel Goldfarb on 1918. This makes the
central theme of the Rhapsody. While the beginning is based on Rabbi
Shmuel Brazil's, originally much faster, melody.
The lyrics in shortened form: Peace upon you, ministering angels,
messengers of the Most High, of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy
One, blessed be He. Come in peace, messengers of peace [..] Bless me
with peace [..] May your departure be in peace [..]
Hora Mamtera & Nigunim: in this piece, Rhapsody number 3, Hora
Mamtera is the main melody for a 4/4 time popular dance. A fast tune in
the original form, I employed it very slowly as the beginning and
ending parts of this Rhapsody.
The theme's modal aspect, it uses a natural scale with no sensible tone
and can be genuinely adapted to be used in a Pentatonic framework,
suggested a kind of "impressionistic" realization. Many tremolos, fast
and light arpeggios, ethereal textures are distinctive in the starting
of the piece.
I included as middle sections, two Nigun's ("nigunim"). Nigun means
"melody" in Hebrew. They can be joyous or lamenting and mostly are
wordless. Nigunim are essential in Hassidic Judaism. They can be sung
on any syllabuses like "bim bam bam" or "ai ai aii". Although generally
improvisatory many of them have well-known melodies.
A Yiddish song composed by Moshe Nadir in 1927 is the base for this
Rhapsody: "Der Rebbe Elimelekh". Lyrics narrate how the Rabbi Elimelech
gets merry and merrier, takes off his glasses and Tefillin and sends
after a fiddler, then a drummer, then for cymbals.
The theme sounds very melancholic at the beginning but it evolves fast
into an exuberant expression of the joy of life. An improvisatory
introduction is followed by a recitative-like section which introduces
the main melody. The famous tune is repeated in different settings and
with an increasing excitement until the end.
The lyrics summarized:
So the Rabbi Elimelekh had become very happy [..] he took off the
Tefillin and put on his glasses and sent after the two fiddlers. And
the fiddling fiddlers had fiddled "fiddlingly" [..].
And then the Rabbi Elimelekh had become a bit more happy [..] and sent
after the two drummers. And the drumming drummers had drummed
And then the Rabbi Elimelekh had become totally happy [..] he took off
the Kitl (suit) and put on a hat and sent after the two cymbalists. [..]
The fiddling drummer had fiddled "cymballingly" and liquor-flowed
himself with wine. The cheerful musicians with bottles under their arms
caroused brightly till the next day.
Rhapsody number 5 is "Donna Donna." This famous song is also known as
"Dana Dana" or "Dos Kelbl" (The Calf). This is a Yiddish (the
historical language of the Ashkenazi Jews which includes an extensive
German based vocabulary.) theater song narrating the story of a calf
being led to slaughter.
Dana Dana was written for the stage production Esterke (1940) by Aaron
Zeitlin with original music composed by Sholom Secunda. A "wonder
child" hazzan (cantor) of Ukrainian-Jewish descent. Secunda was born in
1894 in Russia and died in New York in 1974. The composer published an
English translated version of the song changing "dana" to "dona",
however it failed to gain popularity. The lyrics were translated again
in the mid 1950s by Arthur Kevess and Teddi Schwartz. Then the song
became well known with those words. However became really popular after
being recorded first by Joan Baez in 1960 then Donovan in 1965 and
Patty Duke in 1968.
Purim ("lots") from the word "pur" is a Jewish holiday that
commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people in the ancient
Persian Empire where a plot had been formed to destroy them. The story
is recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther. According to the Book of
Esther, Haman, royal vizier to King Ahasuerus (presumed to be Xerxes I
of Persia) planned to kill all the Jews in the empire, but his plans
were foiled by Mordecai and his cousin and adopted daughter Esther who
had risen to become Queen of Persia. The day of deliverance became a
day of feasting and rejoicing.
The basic material for the Rhapsody number 6 is two famous Purim songs
combined, mixed and interwoven in various ways.
Among many Purim songs two are specially famous: "Chag Purim" (Festival
of Purim), the traditional children's Purim song par excellence and
"Ani Purim" ("I am Purim"). Both of them are used in the Rhapsody. The
minor key Chag Purim contrasts boldly with the major key Ani Purim.
They are interlaced so as to bring abrupt switches of tone color.
The seventieth Rhapsody is "Kal Nidre" (also known as Kol Nidrei). The
opening prayer and the name for the evening service that begins Yom
Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Its name is taken from the opening words,
meaning "all vows". "All (personal) vows we are likely to make, all
oaths and pledges we are likely to take between this Yom Kippur and the
next Yom Kippur, we publicly renounce." This is to pray God to annul
vows we may make (to Him) during the coming year, either innocently or
under duress, that is vows made unintentionally through the careless
use of words or vows made under pressure.
Several musical renditions of the Kol Nidrei exists, the best-known of
them are by the (non-Jewish) composer Max Bruch.
The first part of the Rhapsody is structured with a choral ecriture. As
with the Bruch's composition, a major section brings the climax.
Hanukkah also spelled as Chanukah or Chanukkah, "The Festival of
Lights"; "Feast of Dedication" is an eight-day Jewish holiday
commemorating the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at
the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire of the 2nd
A very large number of music have been created for Hanukkah. Maybe more
than for any other holiday.
The Rhapsody number 8 uses three main melodies in a medley fashion.
First is the traditional music for the blessing on lighting the candle.
It is followed by the famous: Maoz Tzur, both melodies are in major key.
The blessing reads: "Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the
universe, Who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to
kindle the Hanukkah lights." "My refuge, my rock of salvation! 'Tis
pleasant to sing your praises. Let our house of prayer be restored.
[..]" forms the central ideas and the beginning of Maoz Tzur.
The third melody used in the Rhapsody is the, also infamous, "Oh
Hanukkah" ("Oy Chanukah"). "Hanukah, Oh Hanukah, Come light the
menorah, Let's have a party, We'll all dance the horah [..]". This a
fast tempo minor key well-known melody. The piece makes use of all
three tunes mixing and placing them in many different positions.