WEISGALL: T'kiatot / Psalm of the Distant Dove / A Garden Eastward
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MUSIC of HUGO WEISGALL
HUGO WEISGALL ((1912-97)
T'KIATOT: RITUALS FOR ROSH HASHANA (1986)
PSALM OF THE DISTANT DOVE (1992
FOUR CHORAL ETUDES (1960)
A GARDEN EASTWARD (1952)
The creator of a substantial body of music for various media, HUGO WEISGALL is probably best remembered as one of America's most important composers of opera and large-scale song cycles, reflecting his lifelong interest in both western and Judaic literature and his affinity for the human voice and the theater.?á Born in Moravia but educated in the United States at the Peabody Conservatory and the Curtis Institute, he was descended from generations of cantors in the Bohemian-Austrian orbit.?á Weisgall absorbed the Central European liturgical traditions--choral and cantorial--as well as the western lieder and operatic canons from his father, a cantor, laying the foundation for a creative life that would embrace both general and Jewish oriented musical realms.?á Weisgall's works are marked by their literary merit, original vocal style, and attention to musical and dramatic detail.?á His mature musical style closely approaches that of the Second Viennese School, especially its more lyrical aspects, and is marked by rather severe chromaticism.?á
T'kiatot:Rituals for Rosh Hashana, though one of Weisgall's few purelyorchestral compositions, is not absolute music, but rather one of his mostovertly Jewish pieces.?á Neil Levin points out that this Judaic aspect refersnot so much to its overall sonority or style, which relate strongly to theabstract atonality Weisgall shared with Schoenberg, Berg and Webern.?á Rather,the Jewish connection derives from the work's overall structural concept, whichis based on a major section of the Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year) liturgy; fromits integral incorporation of a canonized, medieval Ashkenazi synagogue tuneinto the musical fabric; and from its introduction of the ancient Temple-erainstrument, the shofar (ram's horn), which was used in antiquity for a varietyof religious and secular occasions and is today most emblematic of the HighHoly Days.?á The great medieval sage and scholar Moses Maimonides interpretedthe shofar blasts on Rosh Hashana as proclaiming: \You who are asleep, awaken!Search your deeds and repent!
Thework's title, T'kiatot, refers to a central tripartite section of theRosh Hashana liturgy, which the composer expresses and interpretsinstrumentally.?á Each of the three divisions illustrates one of the centraltheological themes of this Holy Day, which in modern contexts can translate toGod as the primeval source of all existence and creator of the universe; God interms of history, especially in Israel's collective memory; and God theultimate revealer of truth and wisdom.?á The corresponding musical movements area Fantasia (on the liturgical tune), a Scherzo that is optimistic in tone, anda concluding section based on the various prescribed shofar blasts or "calls."?áT'kiatot was premiered at New York's 92nd Street Y under thedirection of Gerard Schwarz, who conducts the Seattle Symphony on thisrecording.
Thesecond liturgical work on this disc is Four Choral Etudes: acappella SATB settings of well-known Hebrew texts--three Psalms and a hymnfor the conclusion of the Passover seder.?á With their chromatic harmoniclanguage, swiftly moving parts and considerable vocal demands, thesechallenging pieces are clearly intended for the concert hall rather than thesynagogue.?á Avner Itai conducts the BBC Singers.
The"Golden Age' of Spanish Jewry during the era of Moslem rule on the IberianPeninsula (900-1200) served as the inspiration for two of Weisgall's majorvocal works heard on this Milken Archive disc.?á Psalm of the Distant Dove
was his last long song cycle, and is sung here by soprano Ana Maria Martinezwith pianist Kristen Okerlund.?á Its focal point is the age-old relationshipbetween God and his loving but suffering people, Israel, represented by thepoetic image of the dove, which throughout Mediterranean and especially Arabicpoetry is associated with lovers, perhaps because doves never abandon theirlife partners.?á Weisgall alternates three short "preludes"--excerpts from thebiblical Song of Songs and rabbinic commentaries on those texts--withthree "songs," which are based on the verse of three Spanish-Jewish poets,including the most widely recognized literary and philosophical figure of theperiod, Judah Halevi (ca. 1075-1141).?á Serene images of spring give way topainful intimations of struggle and death, and the cycle concludes with a pleafor the redemption of Israel.?á
Thefinal work is A Garden Eastward, which resembles a symphony forvoice and orchestra and is set to English versions of image-rich medievalpoetry by the great Spanish Hebrew poet and philosopher Moses Ibn Ezra(1055-1135).?á It is cast in three contrasting movements: the ethereal butintense Fantasia, which extols the wonders of the heavens and all creation, alyrical, lilting Scherzo that recalls a Moorish garden (or possibly the Gardenof Eden), and Free Variations, a hymn to the wisdom of past generations that isbased on a traditional German Ashkenazi synagogue melody.?á This tune, one ofmany melodies used in western and Central Europe for the text of Adon olam,
the hymn of praise commonly sung at the conclusion of synagogue services, wassung by Weisgall's father.?á Illustrating the Milken Archive's practice ofrecording works in culturally and historically appropriate locations wheneverpossible, soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson is heard with the BarcelonaSymphony/National Orchestra of Catalonia led by Jorge Mester.?á
HugoWeisgall was repeatedly drawn to historical, literary, biblical, and liturgicalJewish subjects, and in addition to his acknowledged position among importantAmerican composers, he championed the perpetuation of authentic Jewish musicaltradition.?á Many of his works were inspired by his sense of Jewish identity,among them the most famous of his ten operas, Esther, produced at NewYork City Opera; settings of Yiddish folksongs; numerous chamber pieces onJewish subjects; and a Reform Friday evening service.?á His non-Judaicallyrelated works include his well-known opera, Six Characters in Search of anAuthor, based on the Pirandello play, and other dramatic compositions ontexts by W.B. Yeats, Strindberg and Frank Wedekind.
Inaddition to his composing and synagogue-related musical activities, Weisgallestablished the foremost curriculum in America for cantorial education andtraining as chairman of the faculty of the Jewish Theological Seminary ofAmerica's Cantors Institute (now the H.L. Cantorial School), a college ofJewish music, bringing his exacting musical standards to bear upon thatinstitution's approach, and mentoring many important composers during his44-year tenure.?á He also taught at Queens College and The Juilliard School in New York.