WELCOME TO PART TWO of the online companion guide to the Milken Archive’s 2016 anthology two-album anthology, which includes one track from each of the 20 thematic volumes. The selections are presented below, along with information on their historical and cultural context, volume association, and suggested links to relevant areas of this website that warrant further exploration. Part one covers tracks 1–10. Tracks 11–20 are featured below.
Mir trogn a gezang: The new Book of Yiddish Songs was the first anthology to bring to wider public attention an annotated sampling of songs by important Yiddish labor, socialist, and revolutionary poets. It was compiled and edited by Eleanor Gordon [Chana] Mlotek and published in 1972 by the Workmen’s Circle (Arbeter Ring) Education Department. The title translated is “I Carry a Song.” The Milken Archive has recorded four songs from that collection in newly created choral arrangements, of which included here is Mayn rue platz (My Resting Place).
The text is by Morris Rosenfeld, who became known in America as “the poet of the sweatshop” after Upton Sinclair referred to him in 1915 as “the genuine voice of the sweatshop workers.” An entirely different, independent melody to this same text was composed and published in Berlin by Janot Roskin in the early years of the 20th century. The melodic version used here became relatively well known in the United States as an anonymous folk tune.
The song remains popular in Jewish music circles today. See below for links to a historical recording by Ben and Florence Belfer for voice and piano, and to a contemporary version by Daniel Kahn that includes ukulele and harmonica.
Canticles for Jerusalem by Vivian Fine (1913–2000) comprises settings of five Hebrew poems in English translation, combined with passages in the original Hebrew. Two are by the medieval Spanish-Hebrew poet Yehuda Halevi (ca. 1075–1141); two are by the modern Hebrew poet Yehuda Amichai (1924–2000). One is a setting of Psalm 137.
Libbi b’mizraḥ (My Heart is in the East) is one of the most familiar poems of Halevi's entire oeuvre. It echoes the first three words of verse 5 of Psalm 137, “If I forget you, Jerusalem,” which—in that Psalm—represents the exiled and captive people’s resolve during the Babylonian captivity never to forget Jerusalem nor to relinquish the hope and determination to return.
Born in 1913, Vivian Fine began piano studies at age five on scholarship at the Chicago Musical School. She later studied composition with Ruth Crawford and Roger Sessions, and, upon moving to New York, began working as an accompanist and composer for several dance companies. Canticles for Jerusalem was composed in 1983 and received its premiere at Harvard University in 1989.
Along with a few songs from the Yiddish theater, Kol nidre is among the few pieces of Jewish music that have crossed into the mainstream, primarily through its orchestral arrangement by Max Bruch. It is the most famous melody from the group of tunes known as mi-sinai (Hebrew: lit. from Mount Sinai) tunes and dates to the early sixteenth century. Bruch first heard it when he worked as the conductor of a Berlin choir that had some Jewish members. He composed his orchestral arrangement in 1881 while working in Liverpool.
The arrangement for organ and cello is a piece near and dear to the heart of Julian Schwarz, the cellist featured on this recording. Beginning at the age of eight, Schwarz performed the piece annually at his family’s Seattle synagogue on Yom Kippur. Julian and his father, Gerard Schwarz, were featured in a Milken Archive podcast (linked below) discussion on the origins and development of the melody.
Though the mussaf service is a separate entity and can be said any time between the shaḥarit (morning) and minḥa (afternoon) services, it is generally attached to the morning service as part of a single, extended service. There are slight variations in the order of the mussaf service on holy days and Festivals. In the case of the Rosh Hashana, there are three b'rakhot in the amidah section—Malkhuyot (God’s sovereignty), Zikhronot (memories), and Shofarot (shofar blasts)—which each contain ten biblical texts.
As part of the Makhuyot section, Ki k’shimka begins with the phrase “Your ineffable name” and emphasizes God’s mercy and understanding. The setting, performed here by Canto Alberto Mizrahi, is by Paul Discount.
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Although the shofar is most commonly associated with Rosh Hashana, it had many uses in the biblical era. In addition to its function in other religious ceremonies, it was used as a signaling instrument in military contexts and for public proclamations and ceremonies. The shofar may be the oldest surviving wind instrument used continuously in its original form among the Jewish people, having survived the ban on instrumental music following the fall of the Second Temple.
The shofar also makes occasional appearances in mainstream media and culture. Earlier this year, militants occupying Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge invoked the ritual ram’s horn’s military history when they used a video of two of the members blowing shofars as a call to “Christian Soldiers” to “send in the troops.” IN 2013, popular rap artist Macklemore used a shofar in a video announcing his performance at MTV’s Video Music Awards.
In the Reform movement of the early–mid-20th century, the shofar had fallen out of favor. Many congregations found its unrefined and raucous sound out of step with the decorum of their Rosh Hashana services and had replaced it with a trumpet. In the 1960s, composer Herman Berlinksi sought to redress this, and composed his Shofar Service in order to reintroduce the shofar to congregations that had abandoned it. Excerpted here is the first (Malkhuyot) section of that service. Learn more about the remarkable life of Herman Berlinski in his profile and oral history, both linked below.
On November 18, 1945, at the Wilshire-Ebell Theater, Werner Janssen conducted a performance of a highly unusual work for narrator, chorus, and orchestra titled Genesis Suite. The work retells the creation of the earth according to the Book of Genesis to a soundtrack composed by some of the leading composers of the day, including Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Arnold Schoenberg, and Igor Stravinsky. Schoenberg and Stravinsky were at that point bitter rivals and rehearsals had to be organized so that the two would not meet.
The composition was organized by Nathaniel Shilkret, a composer who worked for the Victor Recording Company. He initiated the project after a public poll taken by the company suggested there was considerable interest in a musical representation of the Bible. Shilkret also composed the work’s second movement: “Creation.”
Darius Milhaud, who, like most of the other composers was exiled in the U.S. as war raged in Europe, composed the movement excerpted here concerning the story of Cain and Abel. The concert program notes described this movement simply as “the story of discord and violence deftly underlined in music.”
The Day of Rest is a concert service comprising settings of texts from three sections of the Sabbath liturgy. There are nineteen settings in all, six of which were recorded for the Milken Archive.
Excerpted here is Uv’nuḥo yomar, which occurs at the end of the Torah service and is recited as the Torah scrolls are returned to the ark following the communal reading. Performed by the Vienna Boys Choir (part of their first experience with Jewish music and the Hebrew language), the music projects the contrasting moods within the text.
Composer and scholar Sholom Kalib was born into a family of cantors steeped in the eastern European choral-cantorial tradition. When his family moved to Chicago, Kalib began working with one of the leading cantors of the city’s orthodox community and became his choirmaster at the age of fourteen. After earning his Ph.D. in music theory from Northwestern University, Kalib became a professor of music at Eastern Michigan University and worked as a cantor in Detroit and Flint.
Jews known as “Western” or “Amsterdam” Sephardim have roots in the communities of 16th-century conversos—Jews who had converted to Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition—who later left the Iberian Penninsula and settled in Amsterdam. Having arrived there with little knowledge of Jewish tradition and liturgy, they “re-invented” it by recruiting rabbis and cantors from the eastern Mediterranean who belonged to communities that had left the Iberian Peninsula earlier. The first Jewish communities of North America comprised Western Sephardim.
Among the distinctive traditions of Western Sephardi liturgical music are elegies or kinot that commemorate the destruction of the Second Temple and the expulsion edict of 1492. These were among the first Jewish sounds to be sung in North America and continue to this day at the continent’s first established synagogue: New York’s Shearith Israel.
Aleikhem eda k'dosha was one of the many piyyutim (liturgical poems) brought to Amsterdam from Saloniki by Hazzan Joseph Gallego in the early 17th century. The poetic structure is modeled on the “four questions” of the Passover Seder. There are also references to 13th- and 14th-century massacres. The Amsterdam and New York melodies are nearly the same.
Though Lazar Weiner’s legacy rests primarily on his large body of Yiddish art songs, he was a composer and musician of vast skill and diverse talents. He conducted and composed for numerous Yiddish choruses and served as music director at New York’s prestigious Central Synagogue. Learn more about Weiner in the extended oral history with his son, Yehudi Wyner (linked below).
Akavyo ben Mahalal’el Omer (Akavya, the Son of Mahalal’el, Said) is one of Lazar Weiner’s lesser-known pieces and one of his rare männerchor settings. (Männerchor refers to an all-male choir that sings four-part choral arrangements with two parts for each voice, i.e., TTBB instead of SATB.) The text is the opening verse of Chapter III of Pirkei Avot (Sayings of the Fathers), the most widely known and quoted of the sixty-three tractates of the Mishna that mainly consists of maxims and aphorisms concerning moral and ethical matters. Weiner’s setting employs shifting tonality and interesting rhythmic turns to emphasize Akavya’s message.
Paul Schoenfield’s two-act opera, The Merchant and the Pauper, is adapted from a tale by Reb Naḥman of Bratslav (1772–1811), the founder of the Bratslaver Hassidic sect. The story begins with the pauper’s wife being kidnapped but then rescued by a wealthy merchant. Following this, the merchant and pauper each have a child, which are betrothed to one another at birth. The pauper’s daughter is uncommonly beautiful (she is named Beauty in the opera), and becomes a great source of wealth and power for the pauper—so much so that he becomes emperor and, fearful of losing his daughter, hatches a plot to renege on the agreement. Learn more about the plot and Reb Naḥman at the link below.
The story’s symbolism was succinctly summarized by Allan Kozin in the New York Times (full review linked below):
Briefly, the merchant represents Moses; his rescue of the pauper's wife is Moses' liberation of the Israelites from Egypt. Beauty, the daughter, represents the Shekhina, or the presence of God in the world. Her captivity, by her father (a symbol of spiritual impoverishment) and later the pirate (as evil incarnate), represents the exile of both the Jewish people and the Shekhina after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. The son represents the Messiah, who is to restore the Shekhina to its place and put everything right.
“I’ve come along to write some entertainment to ‘make the sad happy and bring peace among enemies,’ as the Talmud expresses,” Schoenfield wrote in the program booklet for the premiere, referencing the Hassidic mandate to bring joy into the world. “I haven’t had to concern myself with profundity or musicological importance—because such an attitude would be antithetical both to the purimspiel and to the views of Reb Naḥman.”
*The notes to the individual tracks included here contain portions excerpted from the program notes written by Neil W. Levin expressly for the Milken Archive.