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Music of 20th century Jewish Composers


F10199   [8595017419928]   released 11/2011

Josef Bardanashvili: Fantasia for piano solo
Gideon Klein: Lullaby for voice and piano
Gideon Klein: Sonata for piano
Paul Ben-Haim: Sonata for violin solo Op. 44
Gideon Klein: Three songs for higher voice and piano, Op. 1
       I. The Fountain
       II. The Middle of Life 
       III. Twilight Sank from High Above
Erwin Schulhoff: Duo for violin and violoncello

play all Lullaby - Majerová, Tomanová, Patočka, Nouzovský 68:49
Fantasia for solo piano 11:10
Lullaby for voice and piano 2:34
Sonata for piano - Allegro con fuoco 4:35
Sonata for piano - Adagio 3:28
Sonata for piano - Allegro vivace 2:43
Sonata for violin solo - Allegro energico 5:39
Sonata for violin solo - Lento e sotto voce 5:45
Sonata for violin solo -Molto allegro 4:31
Three songs for higher voice and piano - The Fountain 1:40
Three songs for higher voice and piano - The Middle of Life 2:59
Three songs for higher voice and piano - Twillight Sank from High Above 4:01
Duo for violin and violoncello - Moderato 6:09
Duo for violin and violoncello -Zingaresca 3:44
Duo for violin and violoncello - Andantino 5:42
Duo for violin and violoncello -Moderato 3:58

Aneta Majerová – piano
Bronislava Tomanová – soprano
Roman Patočka – violin
Petr Nouzovský – cello


What is Jewish music?
What determines its ‘Jewishness’? The ethnic origin of the composer, his citizenship, religious faith, personal creed, his life and destiny, or the extra-musical subject matter of his oeuvre? Answering these questions is difficult at best and hardly possible at all without oversimplification. (There’s some truth in the old Jewish saying, ‘for every two Jews, you have three opinions’.) One possible answer is put forth by this CD which couples the works of two Jewish composers, with a shared Czech background, and two Israeli citizens who, despite a shared nationality, come out of completely different cultural and geographical traditions.
     At the program’s heart are three pieces by Gideon Klein (1919 – 1945), an immensely promising Czech Jewish pianist and composer, whose tragically truncated body of work became in Milan Slavický’s words a ‘symbol of the ruined fates and hopes of the war years’. Klein was born in Přerov but,started commuting to Prague for piano lessons before his eleventh birthday. Moving to the capital shortly afterwards, he,quickly became involved in the city’s rich cultural activities and met its leading artists and intellectuals at a formative stage. He studied at the Jirásek Grammar School and at the Prague Conservatory as a pupil of Vilém Kurz, under whose guidance he graduated with a performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. Consequently Klein began studying composition at the conservatory with Alois Hába, experimenting with the quarter-tone system in a composition for violin and viola. He also registered for lectures in musicology at the Arts Faculty of Charles University.
     When the Nuremberg Laws were enacted, he had to give up his studies although he continued to perform in public under a pseudonym and appeared at ‘home concerts’ organized illegally in private flats. At the end of 1941 he was transported to Terezín (Theresienstadt) as a member of the so-called Aufbaukommando II, whose task was to prepare conditions for the future internment of other prisoners. In Terezín, Klein devoted himself to youth education and threw himself into the musical life of the ghetto. Under incredibly difficult conditions he kept composing. On October 16th 1944, he was deported to Auschwitz with fellow composers Viktor Ullman, Hans Kraasa, Pavel Haas and conductor Karel Ančerl. He died at the beginning of 1945 in the Silesian concentration camp Fürstengrube.
     A tremendously important role in Klein’s life was played by his older sister Eliška (Líza) Kleinová, who survived the war. A pianist herself, and later an excellent educator, Eliška had created the conditions that enabled Klein’s talent to flourish during his studies in Prague. After the war she contributed to introducing Klein’s work to a broader public. Klein dedicated one of his best and today most often performed pieces to her, the Sonata for Piano, which he wrote in Terezín. According to his sister, the sonata originated from the ‘creative discord between an excellent pianist (...) and an excellent composer’. The harmonic world of the three-movement composition can be characterized as freely atonal and it reveals knowledge of the music of Arnold Schönberg.
     In Terezín, Klein also arranged the more traditionally conceived adaptation of the Hebrew song, Lullaby. Its words were written by Emmanuel Harussi on an original melody by Shalom Charitonov. The Three Songs for Higher Voice and Piano, op.1, with texts by Johann Klaj, Friedrich Hölderlin and Johann Wolfgang Goethe, come from the period before Klein’s internment. Klein dedicated the cycle to his friend, the translator E. A. Saudek, with whom he was intensively in touch and who had strongly influenced Klein’s literary interests. Saudek himself translated the first two poems. The songs are unique because of their extremely demanding vocal part. As in the sonata, the harmony of the piano accompaniment is freely atonal.
     Erwin Schulhoff
(1894 – 1942), a generation older, met a fate similar to Klein’s. Born in Prague into a German-speaking Jewish cotton and wool merchant’s family, he was an exceptionally gifted child and his musical inclinations soon gained support from established musicians including Antonín Dvořák. By age ten Schulhoff was enrolled at the Prague Conservatory where he studied piano with Jindřich Kàan von Albest. Later he studied piano in Vienna and composition in Leipzig, where his teachers included Max Reger. He finished his studies successfully in Cologne. After the outbreak of World War I he entered the Austrian Army, serving for four years. Returning to Germany after the war, he became a member of the avantgarde movement together with Paul Klee and Georg Grosz, and organized performances of music by composers of the Second Viennese School.
     Like many intellectuals of the day, Schulhoff overtly sympathized with the leftist movement. At the beginning of the 1930s he even set music to the Communist Manifesto. In 1933 he visited the Soviet Union with a Czechoslovak delegation along with Alois Hába, whose piano pieces Schulhoff performed. He became a convinced communist (although, as Jaromír Havlík noted in his article, for Soviet communists of that time he was still only a ‘left-oriented bourgeois western composer’). Subsequently he tried on socialist realism and began writing stylistically simpler pieces. During the 1930s Schulhoff’s financial situation worsened. He played in Jaroslav Ježek’s Orchestra of the Osvobozené divadlo (Liberated Theatre) and was employed as pianist of the Czechoslovak Radio. Adverse circumstances culminated with the Nazi invasion. Schulhoff tried to emigrate and managed to obtain Soviet citizenship but was arrested in 1941 before he could flee. As a citizen of an enemy state he was deported to the detention camp in Wülzburg, Bavaria, where he died eight months later.
     Some of Schulhoff’s most interesting works were inspired by jazz and folk music. His Duo for Violin and Cello, dedicated to Leoš Janáček, was composed in 1925, a couple of years after Maurice Ravel had employed this unusual instrumentation. Bohuslav Martinů would also use it shortly afterwards.
     If there is a place in the world today which still justifies the cliché ‘melting pot’, it is surely Israel whose population consists of immigrants not only from Europe but also from Africa and Asia. It is thus logical that the music of Israeli composers is marked by hugely diverse influences. One of the most distinctive is represented by the musical traditions of countries of the former Soviet Union, from where many musicians came to Israel.
     Josef Bardanashvili (born 1948), a native of Batumi, Georgia, epitomizes this meeting of cultures. Before emigrating to Israel in 1995, Bardanashvili was an established composer in his homeland, winning several prizes for his compositions. His style is formed by traditional Georgian and Jewish music on one side, and a ‘European’ treatment of musical material on the other. He is the author of chamber, orchestral and vocal music and together with director Robert Sturua (a frequent collaborator of perhaps the most famous Georgian composer Giya Kancheli) he wrote a rock opera.
     In his Fantasia for Solo Piano, the use of simple melodies, reminiscent of folk music, along with accentuated seemingly out-of-context counter-lines shows similarities to the music of Giya Kancheli. This composition was written in 2004 as a compulsory piece for the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition. Bardanashvili dedicated it to the founder and director of the competition, Jacob Bistritzky.
     The other Israeli composer represented on this recording, Paul Ben-Haim (1897 – 1984), was born Paul Frankenburger in Munich. After his studies he worked as assistant to Bruno Walter in the Bavarian State Theater and as conductor in the Augsburg opera. He left Germany in 1933, the same year Arnold Schönberg headed for the United States via France. Paul Ben-Haim emigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine, where he changed his name (adopting his his father’s Hebrew name) and became involved in the local musical life. He conducted the Palestinian Orchestra, taught at local music schools, devoted himself to his own music and after the declaration of Israeli independence accepted Israeli citizenship.
     Before his departure from Europe, Ben-Haim’s musical language had already been determined by a number of influences ranging from neoclassicism to jazz. In 1939 he met Bracha Zephira, a folk singer of Yemenese origin. He began accompanying her on piano and arranged many of her songs for an instrumental ensemble. Thanks to this collaboration he learned about music from the Middle East, which began influencing his later works. Ben-Haim’s music was brought to wider international attention after 1945, when his compositions began to be performed by musicians such as Menahem Pressler, Leonard Bernstein and Jascha Heifetz. The Sonata for Violin Solo, op.44, was written in 1951 for violin virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin and we can trace in it features typical for Ben-Haim’s mature work – the fusing of European classical elements with rhythms of Middle Eastern folk music.

Josef Třeštík

This CD was released with the kind support of the Embassy of the State of Israel in Prague, the Gideon Klein Foundation, Nadace Židovského muzea, Nadace Židovské obce v Praze, Nadace Český hudební fond, Rokytka Gardens C1 group, White Hill Development.


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