JACOBI: Cello Concerto / Hagiographa / Sabbath Evening Service (Naxos Milken Archives: 8.559434)
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FREDERICK JACOBI: FIVE WORKS
FREDERICK JACOBI (1891-1952)
Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra (1932)
Sabbath Evening Service (excerpts) (1931)
Ahavat olam (1945)
Two Pieces in Sabbath Mood (1946)
Born in San Francisco of German-Jewish descent, Frederick Jacobi was a composer in the general classical music tradition whose reputation today rests largely on his Jewish related compositions, both liturgical and secular.?á In addition, he was one of the few American composers of his time to use indigenous sources in his works, reflecting his intense interest in some of the ethnic music that he felt contributed to the creation of an aggregate American musical tradition.?á Just as Bartok collected the folk songs of Hungary, Jacobi, in the 1920s, visited Pueblo and Navajo tribes in Arizona and New Mexico, absorbing their traditional motifs, rhythms and sonorities, and subsequently using them in a number of his concert works.
Hisother major ethnic musical interest, which eventually became his primaryinspiration and marked his most significant works, arose from his own Judaicheritage.?á His \discovery" of his Jewish roots was probably ignited in 1930,when he was commissioned by Lazare Saminsky, music director of New York's Temple Emanu-El, to compose a complete setting of the Sabbath Eve Service forthat congregation.?á Despite a lack of formal Jewish education or religiousbackground, Jacobi seems to have been motivated from that point on to explorethe artistic possibilities inherent in Jewish historical, religious and musicaltradition, and soon gravitated towards biblical lore and liturgical subjects asinspiration for his creative endeavors, both sacred and secular, vocal andinstrumental.?á As Milken Archive Artistic Director Neil Levin points out, "Inturning to Jewish musical wellsprings and thereby extending American music toinclude established Jewish elements and references, Jacobi was often consideredpart of the lineage of such composers as Ernest Bloch and Aaron Copland...whoenriched American music in part by Jewish content or allusions."?á
Jacobi'sConcerto for Violoncello and Orchestra was written in 1932, shortlyafter the premiere of his Sabbath Evening Service at Temple Emanu-El, and couldbe considered almost a spiritual outgrowth of that work.?á Inspired by the Bookof Psalms, it is a series of meditations on the feelings expressed in, andevoked by, Psalms 90, 91 and 92.?á Each of the three movements is prefaced inthe score by a quotation from those texts, which project an undeniable spiritof confidence in God's protection.?á In the program notes for a ClevelandOrchestra performance of this concerto, the three movements are described aspresenting different aspects of the same religious mood: the tender, thebuoyant, and the poignantly dramatic.?á This concerto is not a virtuoso displayvehicle for the soloist, but rather an opportunity for intense soloinstrumental singing, spiritual introspection, and reflection.
New York'sTemple Emanu-El was probably the first American synagogue to commission serious20th-century classical composers to write for its liturgy.?á Four excerpts fromFrederick Jacobi's Sabbath Evening Service, commissioned by thisprestigious Reform congregation, are heard on this recording.?á Scored forbaritone cantor and choir, the work is to be performed a cappella, withoutorgan, reflecting the composer's desire, as he expressed it, to "seek a returnto the more simple style of the older Jewish ritual."?á While the music isclearly original in melodic and harmonic content, there are echoes of modalitythat evoke a common (though not necessarily historically accurate) perceptionof antiquity; these modal references are employed with artistic freedom andingenuity.?á The solo recitative passages have definite hints of idiomaticcantorial ornamentation, always treated with restraint, and the choral sectionsfeature transparent textures and fluid voice leading.
Jacobi'sbest-known chamber work, Hagiographa (Sacred Writings),for piano and string quartet, was written in 1938, commissionedby and dedicated to the legendary patroness of Amerian music, Elizabeth SpragueCoolidge.?á The work is a rhapsodic interpretation of episodes and moods fromthree biblical books--Job, Ruth and Joshua, featuring musical portraits of theirprincipal characters.?á The composer's own notes describe what he intended toconvey: "In the first movement I endeavored to reproduce the dramatic intensityof the Book of Job: the sorrows piled high upon the head of the patient Job;his resignation to them; the advent of his friends; his stormy argument withGod and their final reconciliation.?á Ruth is a mood-picture, idyllic andpastoral...Joshua is the siege of Jericho: the battle, the trumpets, the city'sfall, the hymn of thanksgiving, and the suggestion of a ritualistic dance.?áDespite the programmatic content, each of the movements is written in a formwhich would be convincing from the purely musical point of view..."
Jacobi'sAhavat Olam is a setting for cantor, choir and organ of theevening prayer text.?á It was commissioned by Cantor Putterman for the 1945annual service of new liturgical music at New York's Park Avenue Synagogue;that same evening, individual prayer settings by composers including LeonardBernstein, Darius Milhaud, and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco were also presented.?áThis Ahavat olam exhibits a more traditional flavor than that found inJacobi's earlier Temple Emanu-El service.?á During the intervening 15 years, hehad become increasingly involved with Jewish liturgical musical concerns, andthe result can be heard in the flow of the solo melismatic cantorial lines inthis setting, as well as the cantorially inspired ornamentation in some of thechoral passages.?á Appropriately, the setting reflects the twofold Sabbathspirit of peace and joy.
TwoPieces in Sabbath Mood (1946) is a two-movement orchestral tonepoem that also depicts the dual spiritual parameters of the Sabbath in Jewishlife and tradition: the tranquility that results from the avoidance ofpractical daily concerns; and the mandated experience of uplifting joy on bothpersonal and social-familial levels.?á Neil Levin points out that in this work,"there are several unidentifiable but clearly derivative melodies or melodicarchetypes that recall synagogue chants, modes, and motives; and there aresubtle references to ubiquitous fragments of Jewish folk tunes."
FrederickJacobi studied with Ernest Bloch, Rubin Goldmark and Rafael Joseffy, andproduced, in addition to his Jewish related compositions, piano and violinconcerti, two symphonies, string quartets and other chamber works, solo pianopieces, art songs and choral works, and a three-act opera.?á During the yearssurrounding the birth of the State of Israel, Jacobi was active in numerousnational Jewish musical organizations, and became increasingly concerned withthe balance between Jewish cultural nationalism and the use of folk elements onthe one hand and artistic originality and imagination on the other.?á At thesame time, he stressed the importance of preserving elements of the Jewishmusical tradition, such as biblical cantillation, pray