S'iz nito kayn nekht
There is No Yesterday
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Yehudi Wyner’s S’iz nito kayn nekhtn was written in 1964 in response to a commission from the Cantors Assembly as part of a project involving seven other composers. The mission was to “frame simple but beautiful Yiddish folksongs in a new musical setting.”
The tune is in a typical eastern European prayer mode known as ahava raba, akin to the Arabic hidjaz mode. It betrays Hassidic origins or at least a Hassidic archetype, not only because of the mode (which is characteristic of much Hassidic song) but because of its general spirit. The text reveals a cynical bitterness, relieved only by flashes of hopeless humor: “Grab what you can today; in the next world you’ll do no better.” It echoes, though probably unwittingly, a famous German folk proverb: “In heaven they don’t have beer, so drink it while you’re here!”
The motoric, dissonant setting reflects the embittered mood of the poem and the joylessness of the tune. The harmonies and the contrapuntal intrusions may sound arbitrarily imposed on the melody, but they are in fact derived from the song and its underlying mode.