The Shadows of Jerusalem

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The Shadows of Jerusalem, a setting of Kupferman’s own poem, was completed in 1992 and dedicated to the memory of his family members murdered by the Germans during the Holocaust.

About the poem and its inspiration, the composer has stated that it was:

born out of the memories of childhood, rituals of Jewish life and prayer, and meditative philosophic overviews which governed my life as a young man. Those bitter and tragic tales of my European ancestors, all of whom were murdered in Russia, Poland, and Romania, were brought to mind in a “holocaust of images.” I remembered the Jewish holiday tunes we sang on festival days, and the strange talmudic or Sabbath synagogue chants never failed to touch me with their deep, dark, mysteries—sad and haunting.

Jerusalem here is not necessarily a reference to the modern State of Israel, of which it is the capital city, nor to modern Zionism or the modern Zionist movement (even though Jerusalem as the political center of the Jewish people is ultimately inseparable from its uninterrupted historical role as Judaism’s spiritual center). Rather, Jerusalem in Kupferman’s poem echoes both its pervasiveness throughout Hebrew liturgy and its parameter as the abiding Jewish emotional attachment—the goal of messianic hope for redemption and the symbol of Jewish unity. In this poem Jerusalem reflects concerns of the Jewish spirit and religious images—Sabbath candle lighting, collective synagogue prayer, the sacredness of the parchment scrolls of the Torah, and the determination to persist in religious observance in the face of brutal persecution (the “bloodied scrolls”)—more than modern national issues. In Kupferman’s sensibilities, as he pointed out in an oral history interview several years after completing the work, the very word Jerusalem, and even more its original Hebrew, y’rushalayim, is “equivalent to Jewishness”—stemming from emotional recollections of hearing it invoked in childhood by his parents and their friends. It is as if he perceives Jerusalem’s shadows falling perpetually on the entire Jewish people, regardless of geographic residence or Diaspora affiliations.

The Shadows of Jerusalem is scored for mezzo-soprano and a trio of clarinet, cello, and piano. “I think the instruments blend beautifully because they don’t blend,” he has explained. “It’s really a nonblending combination. The separated qualities—with the individuality of each instrument—remain true.” And he has described the overall sound as a “make-believe orchestra.” The work opens with agitated and sometimes almost bitter music for the trio, followed by forceful instrumental exclamations that occasionally punctuate the vocal lines. Contrasting passages, however, have an elegiac and deeply poignant character. Both the vocal lines and the instrumental writing seem to reaffirm the composer’s general observation that quintessential elements—scales, intervals, and rhythms—of Romanian, Hungarian, Gypsy, and Yiddish folk melodies have had an impact on his own melodic shapes.

By: Neil W. Levin