Compact Discoveries
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, written, hosted, recorded and edited by Fred Flaxman
©2002 and 2006 by Fred Flaxman

Program 22
“Music for Hanukkah?”

MUSIC: Klezamir: Der Bloyfoygl [Klezamir KL103, end of track 10] [Down and under...]

FLAXMAN: Hello, and welcome to Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman, and the next hour is devoted to “Music for Hanukkah.” But what is appropriate music for Hanukkah?

A great deal of music has been written specifically for Christmas, while finding music related to Hanukkah is much more difficult. Irving Berlin, who was Jewish, didn’t write I'm Dreaming of a White Hanukkah.

Since there isn’t that much music devoted specifically to Hanukkah, I’m going to do the next best thing and bring you an hour of Jewish music. But what is Jewish music? Is it music by Jewish composers? Then Irving Berlin’s I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas would be Jewish music, and so would this piece by Leonard Bernstein:

MUSIC: Bernstein: excerpt from “Simple Song” from Mass [Philips 416 360-2, track 2]

FLAXMAN [over excerpt]: This is the “Simple Song” from Leonard Bernstein’s Mass. This is Jewish music only if you consider anything by a Jewish composer to be Jewish music. A truly odd concept when applied to a mass, don’t you think?

MUSIC: [fades out]

FLAXMAN: Perhaps Jewish music is music written on Jewish themes. You have, for example, Bernstein’s Third Symphony (the “Kaddish”); Bloch’s famous Schelomo [Shuh-LOH-moh]: Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello & Orchestra, his From Jewish Life for cello and piano and his Trois poèmes juifs (Three Jewish Poems); Bruch’s Kol Nidrei [“coal”-NEE-dray] for Cello & Piano, Op. 47; and Goldins’ Eighteen Jewish Folk Songs for Soprano, Violin and Piano.

Under that definition, you don’t have to be Jewish to write Jewish music. Witness Sergei Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes; Dmitri Shostakovich’s From Jewish Folk Poetry and Maurice Ravel’s Deux Mélodies hébraïques (Two Hebrew Melodies] or his Chanson hébraïque (Hebrew Song), sung exquisitely by Cecilia Bartoli on a London release.

MUSIC: Ravel: Chanson hébraïque [London 452 667-2, track 15]

FLAXMAN: Cecilia Bartoli [Cheh-CHEE-lyah BAR-toh-lee] sang Maurice Ravel’s setting of Chanson hébraïque Hebrew Song. Myung-Whun Chung was the pianist. Jewish music at its roots, from a French composer, sung by an Italian, accompanied by a Chinese pianist. This certainly proves that the global economy applies to music. But does this piece qualify as music for Hanukkah? I’ll let you be the judge.

Evidently London Records has no trouble deciding what Jewish music is. They put together more than an hour of it for a recording called “L’Chaim (To Life): The Ultimate Jewish Music Collection.” It features the London Festival Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Stanley Black. This CD includes the main theme to the motion picture Exodus; Hava Nagila [HAH-va Na-gee-lah]; Tradition, Sunrise, Sunset and To Life from Fiddler on the Roof; Tzena, Tzena, Tzena; and several other Jewish favorites. Here’s their take — frankly a bit on the bombastic side for my taste —on the powerful theme to Exodus:

MUSIC: Exodus “This Land is Mine” [London 448 879-2, track 1]

FLAXMAN: This Land is Mine, the main theme from the film Exodus. Stanley Black conducted the London Festival Orchestra and Chorus from the London compact disc called “L’Chaim (To Life): The Ultimate Jewish Music Collection.”

One of my favorite CDs of Jewish music is “Live in the Fiddler’s House” with Itzhak Perlman as the violin soloist. It is a program of exciting klezmer music on the Angel label. This recording has a great deal of variety since, in addition to Perlman, it includes Brave Old World, Andy Statman, The Klezmatics, and the Klezmer Conservatory Band. Let’s listen to some excerpts.

MUSIC: Excerpts from “Live in the Fiddler’s House” [Angel CDC 7243 5 56209 2 7, track 18] [fade out with applause]

FLAXMAN: Excerpts from “Live in the Fiddler’s House.” The star of the show was Itzhak Perlman and it featured Brave Old World, Andy Statman, The Klezmatics and the Klezmer Conservatory Band.

Another CD which features a Jewish performer playing Jewish music is harpist Rachel Van Voorhees’ recording of “Jewish Favorites” on the Centaur label. The program notes clearly indicate which pieces are for Hanukkah, Yom Kippur [Yom Kee-PUR], Sukkot [Sue-KOHT] and Passover. There is also a section of “Songs of the Sabbath.” In addition there are songs of love, songs of struggle and songs of hope: 35 selections in all — everything from Havah Nagilah [HAH-va Na-gee-lah] (Let’s Be Joyful) and Hatikvah [Hah-teek-VAH] (The Hope) to “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof.

I’m going to play for you the four short songs that are directly relevant to Hanukkah: My Little Dreydl, Candles Burning, Chanukah, and Rock of Ages.

MUSIC: My Little Dreydl [Centaur CRC 2317, track 17]

MUSIC: Candles Burning [Centaur CRC 2317, track 28]

MUSIC: Chanukah [Centaur CRC 2317, track 32]

MUSIC: Rock of Ages [Centaur CRC 2317, track 33]

FLAXMAN: Harpist Rachel Van Voorhees with four pieces for Hanukkah: My Little Dreydl, Candles Burning, Chanukah, and Rock of Ages.

You are listening to “Music for Hanukkah” on Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break not included in 58-minute total timing]

In the true spirit of Compact Discoveries, I want to play for you next two clarinet quintets on Jewish themes by two composers I’ll bet you’ve never heard of: Alexander Krein and Boris Levenson.

The Russian/Jewish composer Alexander Krein, who lived from 1883 to 1951, never left Russia. That helps explain why he remains to this day unknown in the West, although he enjoyed great esteem in his native land. Here is the CPO recording of his Esquisses Hébraïque [Hebrew Sketches], Opus 12 — his first of several Jewish works. The clarinetist is Dieter Klöcker [Deeter KLEW-ker]. He is accompanied by the Vlach [Vlahch] Quartet of Prague.

MUSIC: Krein: Esquisses Hébraïque [CPO 999 630-2, CD 2, tracks 1, 2, 3]
FLAXMAN: Esquisses Hébraïque by Alexander Krein. Clarinetist Dieter Klöcker performed with the Vlach [Vlahch] Quartet of Prague.

Boris Levenson, who lived from 1884 until 1947, was a native of Bessarabia. He arrived in the U.S. in 1920. Dieter Klöcker and the Vlach Quartet now perform his Two Jewish Folk Songs from the same CPO recording.

MUSIC: Levenson: Two Jewish Folk Songs [CPO 999 630-2, CD 2, tracks 5, 6]

FLAXMAN: Two Jewish Folk Songs for clarinet quintet by Boris Levenson. The clarinetist was Dieter Klöcker. The strings were provided by the Vlach Quartet of Prague.

Hanukkah lasts eight days and is a festive, happy celebration. “Festive” and “happy” describes the first track of a compact disc called “The Bluebird of Happiness” by a superb young group of contemporary klezmer musicians called Klezamir. The opening number is called Jubilee. It’s by the group’s clarinetist, Jim Armenti.

MUSIC: Klezamir: Jubilee [Klezamir KL103, track 1]

FLAXMAN: Jim Armenti’s Jubilee. The composer was the clarinetist. The group is called Klezamir.

Are you ready for a Jewish tango? Did you know there was such a thing? This one is called Mayn Yidishe Meydele [MAY-dah-leh] — My Jewish Girl. We hear Klezamir once again. The lead vocalist is Felicia Shpall.

MUSIC: Klezamir: Mayn Yidishe Meydele [Klezamir KL103, track 8]

FLAXMAN: Felicia Shpall sang Mayn Yidishe Meydele [MAY-dah-leh]— My Jewish Girl, a Jewish tango. The music was by Sholom Secunda. Lyrics by Anshel [AHN-shul] Schorr. The group is Klezamir.

Well, if we can have Jewish tangos, why not Jewish swing? Once again we hear Felicia Shpall and Klezamir, this time with Oy Mame, Bin Ikh Farlibt [bin eech far-LEEBT] — Oh Mama, Am I in Love!

MUSIC: Klezamir: Oy Mame, Bin Ikh Farlibt [Klezamir KL103, track 5]

FLAXMAN: Oy Mame, Bin Ikh Farlibt [bin eech far-LEEBT]— Oh Mama, Am I in Love! Felicia Shpall was the volcalist with Klezamir. Music and lyrics were by Abraham Ellstein [ELL-steen].

We have time for one more Klezamir song with Felicia Shpall: Di Sapozhkelekh [Dee Sa-POSH-ki-la], The Boots.

MUSIC: Klezamir: Di Sapozhkelekh [Dee Sa-POSH-ki-la](The Boots)[Klezamir KL103, track 11]

FLAXMAN: Felicia Shpall sang Di Sapozhkelekh [Dee Sa-POSH-ki-la].

I hope you have enjoyed “Music for Hanukkah” on Compact Discoveries. Your comments are always welcome. Write me through my website, www.compactdiscoveries.com.

I want to thank Avi Hoffman of the National Center for Jewish Cultural Arts for his help with Hebrew, Yiddish and German pronunciations, and the Czech Embassy in Washington, D.C., for its help with Czech.

This program is dedicated to the memory of Felicia Shpall.

Compact Discoveries is written, produced, recorded and edited by your host, Fred Flaxman. It is available for streaming on demand and is distributed internationally by prx.org, the Public Radio Exchange.

Program Ends at 58:00, including 15-second underwriting announcement for Story Book’s Timeless Tales of Reginald Bretnor.

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