Israeli Song in Historic, Social, and Cultural Perspective

The collaboration between Israel’s greatest poets and composers has created a most important
documentation, not only of Israeli history, but also – and mainly – of the Israeli spirit. The Israeli song reveals the attributes of “Israeli-ness.”

In a series of lectures, we will consider the characteristics of Israeli song, with a special emphasis on Israeli art song, from a critical historic perspective. The course will cover the phenomenon of Hebrew song from the revival of the Hebrew language in the late nineteenth century until today. The
course will introduce a wide variety of musical theories and styles, explore the subject of the Hebrew language and the ways in which it is used, and examine whether an Israeli song can be compared to the European lied in its structure, lyric-music relationship, and popularity.

The composers that will be discussed in the course include Mordechai Zeira, Emanuel Zamir, Daniel Sambursky, Moshe Wilnesky, Nachum Nardi, Sasha Argov, Matti Caspi, Yoni Rechter, Shlomo Gronich, Shalom Hanoch, and Shem Tov Levi.

The poets that will be discussed in the course include Hayyim Nachman Bialik, Nathan Alterman, Alexander Penn, Leah Goldberg, Zelda Shneurson Mishkowsky, Yehuda Amichai, Natan Zach, Pinhas Sadeh, Haim Gouri, Ayin Hillel, Jacob Orland, Hanoch Levin, Yona Wallach, Tirtza Atar, and Agi Mishol.

No prior musical experience is necessary!

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Below is a detailed list of central themes discussed in the course and a preliminary bibliography: •Introduction to Israeli song – a historical review of its creation and an attempt to define the characteristics of the Israeli art song in comparison to the European Lied (art song). •Revival of the Hebrew language – from sacred language to everyday language, and the first appearance of songs that did not originate from the Old Testament or other Jewish writings. •The spread of Zionist ideology and the appearance of songs that describe longing for Zion and the wish to immigrate to Israel. •Songs of the various waves of immigration and the importance of community singing in uniting and connecting people from different places and cultures. •The influence of place (Israel) on new Israeli melodies and the fusion between East and West. •The evolution of Israeli song from politically engaged songs before the founding of the State of Israel and during the state’s first two decades, to personal songs and songs of protest and political criticism. •Text and subtext, hidden messages in Israeli song. •From Schubert to Sasha Argov – the works of composer Sasha Argov •The various genres of Israeli song – narrative songs, ballads, lullabies, Tango and theatre songs, memorial songs and more. •Composers of the70’s – Matti Caspi, Shlomo Gronich, Yoni Rechter and more. •Children’s songs in Israel – from the very beginning of Israeli song, some of the best composers and poets put their effort into writing children’s songs. This large and impressive body of work was motivated by the wish to help teach kindergarten children of ideals, Zionism, Hebrew, Jewish tradition and the Israeli landscape. •A look at Israeli song today



Text and subtext in the music of Kurt Weill in 1933-1935

In 1933, after the rise of the Nazi party to power, Weill fled to France where he spent almost two years. His works during that time summarize his composition in the European style1 and reveal him at the height of his powers. Weill’s search for a new musical language that would create a mixture of these paradoxical elements, and his aspiration for a type of music that could transmit messages and ideas, led him to develop a technique that conferred a multiplicity of meanings upon the musical texts that he composed.  This lecture sets out to show the composer Kurt Weill as a master artist in his ability to create and transmit implications derived from the musical text, and especially in his ability to create a system of messages and concealed signs – the subtext.

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The lecture will focus mainly on two of his masterpieces: “The Seven Deadly Sins” and the 2nd Symphony.


Music as a Means of Communication

In the early days of mankind, man discovered that by beating drums and producing a series of blasts
from trumpets, sounds could be created that would carry for great distances and would allow people to communicate detailed messages from tribe to tribes and village to village. Music is an essential, even deciding part of modern communication genres: television, cinema, radio, internet, the world of advertizing etc.

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This course will discuss the different aspects of the central role music plays in various forms of communication in the past and the present. No prior musical experience necessary!

Mahler, Schoenberg, Weill: Jewish composers and Modernism in the 20th  century

This course engages with three Jewish composers – Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg and Kurt
Weill. Although all three moved away from traditional Jewish lifestyle, their Jewish identity played an important role in their self-awareness and artistic work. The multi-faceted compositions of these composers altered the face of 20th-century music, and in many ways even defined the term “modern music”.  The course will analyse selected works by these composers in connection with contemporary historical, social and cultural events.

The ground-breaking works of Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), his complex personality, tragic life and dialectic approach to musical thought, were among the factors that turned him into a symbolic figure for Modernism.  In his monumental symphonies, which broke the accepted patterns of the period, he sought to engage with philosophical issues and to express the distress of modern man in a world of contradictions.

The composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951), Mahler’s pupil, was a central figure in shaping
the musical path of the 20th century.  As inventor of the dodecaphonic method, he succeeded to change the music conventions in the field of traditional tonal harmony and thereby influenced an entire generation of composers.

Kurt Weill (1900-1950) was among the most important composers in the field of music theatre and his works established the foundations of modern music theatre.  Weill sought to create a new musical language that would combine between his principles as a composer of art music on the one hand, while simplifying the aesthetic means of expression of his time, on the other. In the course of this process he developed a musical style that created a mixture between paradoxical elements: a style that combined between serious and light music, between concert genres and cabaret and light entertainment genres, between past techniques and the most advanced technological innovations of the time.

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Each of these three composers was forced to deal, each in his own way, with his Jewishness. “I am lacking a country three times over,” stated Mahler. “A Bohemian among Austrians, an Austrian among Germans and a Jew in the eyes of every country in the world.” He was born and raised in a traditional Jewish family, converted to Christianity to enable his appointment at musical director of the Vienna Opera, married a gentile woman and was buried by a Catholic priest. Throughout his entire career he suffered from vicious anti-Semitism directed at him by the establishment and the critics. Arnold Schoenberg, who was the son of a Jewish shoe-shop owner, returned after the Holocaust to his Jewish origins. The shock he had experienced from the Holocaust found expression in his work “A Survivor from Warsaw” – which included the “Hear O Israel” prayer. His choral work “Kol Nidre” was written about two months before the Kristallnacht pogrom in Germany and during his stay in the USA he added and wrote many works influenced by Jewish subjects, such as “Jacob’s Ladder”, and the opera “Moses and Aaron”. Kurt Weill was the son of the Dessau town cantor. With the rise of the Nazis to power in Germany in 1933, he was forced to flee, like the majority of contemporary German-Jewish artists and intellectuals, and became a refugee. Like Schoenberg, he too fled first to France and then, three years later, he immigrated to the USA, where he would live and work until his death. In France he wrote his two masterpieces – “The Seven Sins of Death” and Symphony No. 2, both of which constitute a type of requiem by Weill for “a world of yesterday”, of European music; and, sutextually, also a sharp criticism of the Nazi government from which he had succeeded in escaping at the very last moment. In France he was also to write his greatest work on Jewish themes – “The Eternal Road”. In continuation he would write among others “Kiddush”, a Hebrew prayer for a mixed choir, baritone singer and organ, and he would even orchestrate “Hatikva” – the Jewish national anthem.