NAOMI AND RUTH
Naomi and Ruth (1947) wasCastelnuovo-Tedesco's first nonliturgical biblical choral work, a genre towhich he later dedicated himself intensely. It was written for women's chorusand a soprano soloist who takes the role of Naomi. Ruth's responses, describedby the composer as \characteristically universal," are left to the chorus.
Castelnuovo Tedesco's interest in the story went back to his childhood. Naomihappened to be his mother's name as well, and as he later wrote:
In some way I identified withthis biblical character through my mother (and at the same time I identifiedmyself with her).... Some time later I found another "connection": The otherprincipal female character, the mild and faithful Ruth, resembled my wife,Clara.... In a certain sense, it really was my "symbolic autobiography,"existing before I decided to write--to open my heart.
In 1948 Castelnuovo-Tedesco wasvisited by his friend, composer Ernst Toch, a refugee from Vienna then livingin Los Angeles. Toch gave him the score to his cello concerto (op. 35). Movedby the affection expressed by Toch's gift, Castelnuovo Tedesco returned thegesture by presenting Toch with a manuscript copy of this cantata. Almostimmediately he regretted what he had done, writing later:
"To Ernst, who was such acomplex and mature musician, this cantata must seem much too simple andchildlike. But with extreme surprise (and immense gratification) I received aletter from Toch ... telling me that "this is one of the purest and mosttouching compositions you have ever written."
Naomi and Ruth (subtitled ASmall Cantata for Women's Voices from the Book of Ruth) was premiered in Los Angeles in 1949 by the Los Angeles City College Philharmonic Chorus conductedby Hugo Strelitzer, with the composer at the piano. It was orchestratedsubsequently.
SACRED SERVICE FOR THE SABBATHEVE
Castelnuovo-Tedesco's SacredService for the Sabbath Eve was written originally in 1943 on request from hisfriend Rabbi Nahum Immanuel, interim rabbi at Beth Sholom Temple in Santa Monica, California. Its premiere was originally envisioned for that Reformcongregation and is therefore set to the prayer texts as they appear in theUnion Prayer Book--except for the sections added later.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco had alreadywritten several individual prayer settings, beginning with l'kha dodi (1936) atthe request of an Amsterdam synagogue, for an a cappella male choir (his firstsetting of the Hebrew language). He had revised it for mixed choir and organ,at Cantor David Putterman's invitation, for a performance in 1943 at the NewYork Park Avenue Synagogue's first service of new liturgical music. AlthoughCastelnuovo-Tedesco had not been actively involved in the Florence synagogueprior to his emigration, apart from holy day attendance, he had becomeacquainted with cantors and synagogue music directors in Los Angeles, whoinvited him to compose for their congregations, Yet he had never attempted anentire unified service, and he saw Rabbi Immanuel's invitation as anopportunity to write a work dedicated to his mother's memory. He later recalledthat his mother had helped him with the Amsterdam l'kha dodi by transliteratingthe words with correct accentuation for him and making a literal translation.
Also, at that time he was feeling increasingly anxious about the fate of hismany relatives left behind in Europe, and he felt "filled with Jewishinspiration."
As he began to contemplate thework, Castelnuovo-Tedesco was confronted by various obstacles. One was themixed formal use of English and Hebrew, including English recitation, in theAmerican Reform service (and in many Conservative/non-Orthodox services of thattime as well). This seemed alien to him and presented an aesthetic imbalance.
His resolution was to fashion organ accompaniments for those recitations, inwhich themes of preceding choral parts were developed in what he called a"melologue." His resolve was to compensate for this perceived aestheticdissimilarity by striving all the more for stylistic unity throughout. The organ,too, was problematic for him--not for reasons of Jewish legal prohibitions ofmusical instruments on Sabbath or other holy days, but because he held thecommon but historically erroneous prejudice against its sound as one associatedwith Western Christian churches. In fact, the organ had been introduced intoReform and Liberal synagogues in Germany in the 19th century, not to emulateChristian services, but for musical-aesthetic reasons and to facilitateorderly, Western-style congregational hymn singing. Moreover, organs hadexisted in a number of western and central Europe orthodox synagogues as well,albeit only for legally permitted occasions such as weddings, non--holy dayservices, and liturgical concerts. In any case, Castelnuovo-Tedesco's subsequentuse of the organ in his liturgical pieces after the Sacred Service suggeststhat he might have come to appreciate its sound within the context of Jewishworship.
An academic issue posed a moreinteresting conceptual problem for Castelnuovo-Tedesco in selecting an overallmusical approach: whether to attempt to base the service on historicalground--specifically on early liturgical traditions or practice. He appears tohave flirted briefly with the idea of using a reconstructed sound of Jewishworship in antiquity, or at least in its premodern stages. This would havemeant consciously avoiding Western classical techniques, and he came to theconclusion that little could be known of the actual musical sound of earlyHebrew liturgy, especially with its continuous acquisitions of musical featuresof host countries and cultures over the centuries. Also, he realized thedifficulty of finding a way to utilize organ, part-writing, polyphony, orharmony in any such reconstruction, since he knew that none of these hadexisted in those early periods and that choral monody had probably prevailed.
So he deter mined instead to follow specifically the Italian polyphonictradition, in that way at least relating the work to another, albeitnon-Jewish, aspect of his Italian heritage. He also saw a historic rationalefor turning to the approach of the 16th- and 17th-century Italian composerSalomone Rossi, the first to apply independent Renaissance polyphony to Hebrewliturgy.
The Sacred Service was completedat the end of 1943, although the composer later remarked, "In a way, it wasnever finished." The premiere, however, never occurred at the Santa Monicasynagogue. By early 1944 Rabbi Immanuel had left that interim post to becomerabbi of the new Westwood Temple, in no position yet to cover the costs of thelarge professional choir the composer required; neither was the Santa Monicasynagogue interested or able, since Rabbi Immanuel appears to have been itsprimary champion. Castelnuovo-Tedesco withdrew the service.
Two years later Cantor Puttermanexcerpted three movements from the full service--mi khamokha, May the Words, andkaddish--which were per formed at the Park Avenue Synagogue in 1945.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco had offered Putterman these three movements only on thecondition that the Sacred Service would soon be performed in its entirety.
Until that time, the Park Avenue services, which had become annual events,presented only individual compositions by a variety of composers in a singleevening, but not yet entire services by single composers. However,Castelnuovo-Tedesco, stressing that he felt this to be his best work in manyyears, insisted that he wanted "for the first