One of the principal Ashkenazi prayer modes for liturgical rendition either by a trained cantor or by a ba’al t’filla (lay cantor or precentor/prayer leader) has been known since the 19th century as the ahava raba mode or shteiger—after the text incipit of one of the many prayer texts to which this mode is attached in the canonized tradition of nusaḥ hat’filla (the established modal system of delivery of certain parts of the liturgy). Emblematic of this mode’s scale, which has similarities to and perhaps derivations from the Arabic hidjaz mode, are the raised third degree—which creates the characteristic interval of an augmented third—and the lowered seventh, which eliminates any leading tone. This mode was also known colloquially, albeit in Yiddish and without musicological justification as freygish among eastern European cantors, as an imagined “Jewish phrygian” mode by virtue of only some of its properties.
References to the ahava raba mode provide some of the expressive Jewish content in Ben-Amots’s violin and piano piece Midnight Dance, in which those references constitute a theme that is juxtaposed against a typically Viennese waltz element and a twelve-tone row. These three elements appear interchangeably while flowing seamlessly into and out of one another. The opening waltz fluctuates between uneven and frequently changing time signatures such as 7/8 and 9/8, thus—according to the composer—creating a “broken music box” effect. The ensuing melodic material of the tone row in the piano part presents what he calls “a new, surrealist-like texture” with its sonic reminders of a ticking clock. It is out of this introduction that the third, ahava raba–related theme is derived, with its minor, melancholic character, reinforced by parallel sixths and thirds and by a pronounced syncopation. “This short character piece,” Ben-Amots has explained, “is filled with a dreamlike, nocturnal mystical ambience.”
Performers: Peter Biro, Piano; Michaela Paetsch, ViolinAdditional Credits:
Publisher: The Composer's Own Press
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