Written by Varda Kotler
Paul Ben Haim: About the Songs
The cycle of songs: "Myrtle Blossoms from Eden" (1965), a poem by Yehuda Halevi, which I heard for the first time on the Voice of Music – caused me a real excitement! I decided to look for additional vocal material – a task that turned out to be not so simple. At the Institute of Israeli Music, I found "Songs Without Words" and the cycle of songs, "Myrtle Blossoms from Eden". From reading the book of Prof. Hirschberg: The Life and Work of Paul Ben Haim, it turned out that additional works are located in the archive in Jerusalem. Nothing could have prepared me to this adventure, amidst a pile of musical notes, that I found there – drawn up in his handwriting, a real treasure!
In Munich, he wrote dozens of lied. It is true that he was influenced by Strauss. After all he was a young man in his 20's, but already his personal mark was showing: the complexity, delicacy and charm. This is qualitative material that successfully passed the test of time, appealing to any art lover.
The songs of Hugo Von Hofmansthal: quite rare material. As a young German poet, Hugo Von Hofmansthal wrote songs, but at a certain stage he shook off any poetics and turned to write plays for the theatre. The work of Prof. Hirschberg tells of an exchange of letters between the poet and Paul Ben Haim, and the songs were composed and performed at that time in his honor. Deine Antlitz the first part expresses admiration for beauty, which was completely lost, while the other part – deep excitement, the poetry of a young man speaking of a great love. The combination of the music with the text and the musical construction – this is the whole and complete matter.
Vorfrühling: it is the wind that travels from place to place, see all and yet hidden from the eye. This is the one who knows all the secrets in chambers, carrying with him memories, shades and perfumes … Ben Haim succeeds in expressing the maneuvers and mystery which is in the nature of the wind. It is the end of winter, the birth of spring, perfumed scents in the air, new hopes and aspirations.
The songs of Morgenstern: Morgenstern is better known for his surrealistic rhymes, but Ben Haim preferred to emphasize the lyrical aspect in his works. Morgenstern belonged to the movement of Rudolph Steiner – a philosophical anti-materialistic movement that aspired to seek new ways for life in general and for an artistic expression in particular. This period also witnessed a revolution in the art of dance: lebens bewegung and the break of past conventions. The general spirit characterizing the movement: mysticism and expressionism. Ben Haim succeeds in musically passing on this atmosphere in a magnificent manner. The songs become an intimate journey into the human soul.
The Songs of Bethge: Bethge engaged mainly in the translation of Japanese poetry into German, but he also wrote original works. This cycle of songs for soprano, cello and piano shows that Ben Haim did not suffice with routine materials and aspired to special texts.
Trubes lied – the second song in the cycle is one of the most beautiful songs known to me in the lied literature.
The Israeli Part
As Ben Haim immigrated to Israel, he left the entire German world behind him (past memories and a new reality). Shortly before his death – Prof. Hirschberg convinced him to give all his works to the National Archive – thanks to it all the musical notes were kept and his music was not lost.
In Israel, Ben Haim underwent a great change of musical style: he partook in the creation of a new Hebrew – Jewish style in the field of poetry: the Hebrew lied. The Hebrew lied composed by Ben Haim is in my opinion not less original and wonderful in comparison with the German lied. It presents a bright melodic lied and a superb poetic text, resulting with a clean poetics, innocent of any pathos. There is an authentic touch of the beauty of Israel entangled with a sense of nostalgia.
"Songs Without Words" : vocalization for soprano. The songs are more known in the cello or clarinet performance. Here, Ben Haim excels in writing an oriental melody, according to a western – classic composition, which gives a special aroma. He achieves this combination better than all the other Israeli composers. He expresses the mood prevailing in the Judea mountains on a hot blazing summer day, the desert, an oriental dance and a multitude of expressions of the Spanish singing.
Havatzelet Hasharon: the first love song composed to the text of Songs of Solomon. There is no fixed symmetrical weight, similarly to the German poetry. Ben Haim creates a sensitive love song, according to an Israeli – original style .
Barren (Akara) : one of the most beautiful songs written in Israel. The yearning of a young woman for a child, longings and bitterness are expressed in great intensity.
You, Myrtle Blossom from Eden : the first song in the cycle of Myrtle Blossoms from Eden was composed in a delicate melodic line that accords with the poetry of Ibn Gvirol. The loved one is Myrtle (in Hebrew - Hadas, a female forename) – blooming amongst the trees of Eden. Perfumed Pack is a pure superb perfume prepared not by a pharmacist, but as a work of art: it is the creation of God not the hands of a mortal. In the last lines: do not ask me … the poet is perfumed by the scent of love, but prefers not to materialize this love and it remains unfulfilled and pure.
Shelter me Under your Wing : one of the milestones in Hebrew poetry. The poem by Bialik is a love song, that received many interpretations: an intimate love song between a man and a woman, between men or people and God, between the people and its nation.
Like in the Scroll of Fire – life divides between the hero and his dream and the crisis is expressed in his words: "the stars deceived me". In this poem as well – people or man is fed up with disappointments, seeking comfort and escape. Ben Haim emphasizes the national interpretation by quoting Eastern European cantor motives and a modal harmony. It should be mentioned, that Ruth Becky Kolodany, in her work, Shelter me Under your Wing, quotes Pichman, who suggests that Bialik wrote the song after a love affair with the painter, Ira Yan, who illustrated his poems with her drawings. Ben Haim visited Bialik in Tel Aviv and a personal relationship was established, thereafter he composed this song. The version of Ben Haim has a surprising intensity in comparison with the familiar traditional tune.
Children Songs : Paul Ben Haim translates the text of Miriam Yalan-Shteklis to a magical, playful, humoristic music.
Relaxation : a well known traditional tune that received a special processing: delicate accompanying together with a solo violin that also contributes to the atmosphere of nostalgia.
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