Visions, Fantsies and Dances
Music for string quartet
Sapphire String Quartet
Janna Gandelman 1st violin
Roman Spitzer 2nd violin
Amos Boasson Viola
Oleg Stolpner Cello
Visions, Fantasies and Dances is a seven part work for string quartet. I composed it in Australia in 2008; its premiere was at the Jerusalem Theater’s Henry Crown Symphony Hall on March 1st, 2010 by the Sapphire String Quartet. This recording took place at the Jerusalem YMCA Mary Nathaniel Hall - an inspiring and fine-acoustic concert hall.
My spiritual experience as a child chanting the Baqashot at the well-known Ades Synagogue in Jerusalem inspired this composition. Baqashot are collections of supplications, songs and prayers that have been sung by the Sephardic Syrian Jewish communities for centuries. Every Shabbat during winter months my father woke me up a few hours after midnight to walk to Ades Synagogue to participate in the singing until dawn. Later in my life I was able to distinguish between different Maqamat. This attracted me to explore classical Arabic music and heterophonic textures, and, just as has occurred in Baqashot, to compose works that merge Maqamat with Jewish themes. Since I trained in Western classical music and practice improvisation (as a pianist) it seemed appropriate to merge these different influences.
And so, Visions, Fantasies and Dances is an authentic expression of new music which incorporates a wide spectrum of contemporary and ancient styles. It creates a confluence between the heterophonic textures of Arabic genres (classical Arabic music and Arabic-influenced Jewish music) and the compositional approaches of contemporary Western classical music. Amongst the Western composers of special importance to me are Béla Bartók (1881-1945), György Kurtág (b. 1926), György Ligeti (1923-2006), Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998), Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951), Stefan Wolpe (1902- 1972) and John Zorn (b. 1953).
The quartet consists of seven major sections in Part One (tracks 1-7), six major sections in Part Two (tracks 8-13), five major sections in Part Three (tracks 14-18), six major sections in Part Four (tracks 19-24), four major sections in Part five (tracks 25-28), four major sections in Part six (tracks 29-32) and two major sections in Part Seven (tracks 33-34).
The titles of the sections evoke various musical and visual images and transfer the ideas and thoughts that inspired my work. The sections have been created with a range of different approaches and the musical elements have been developed in diverse ways. The thirty two sections utilise approaches and musical modes that contrast with each other. These sections range between up-tempi to slow, between Arabic melody and a Piyyut to a melancholic mood, between choral Baroque style to Serialism, between slow harmonic progression to the heterophonic texture of Jewish prayers and between microtonality to improvisation.
The transition between sections often occurs abruptly and without a musical link, and the sections unite through the development of themes, motifs, articulation and modes. The superimposition and synthesis of such a variety of musical styles and contrasting compositional approaches and modes have been made possible by an overall connectedness in the work. This connectedness can, to a certain degree, be understood, perhaps subconsciously, by experiencing the performance of the piece or by listening to it without a break. Although a musical integration of the various sections has been achieved, the work nevertheless embodies tensions between the ancient and the new, the religious and the secular, and the East and the West.
Prayers and Piyyutim (including Baqashot) have a unique and distinct sound, which is a result of the way they are performed and of their religious purpose. They are sung/chanted by a cantor and congregants as part of the services in synagogues. Congregants (mostly males) chant alongside the cantor and the congregants and the cantor sing in a quasi unison. The melodies of prayers and Piyyutim are monophonic and the congregants intuitively generate variations of these melodies. The texture that results from the congregants’ simultaneous variations is typically heterophonic. The combination of traditional choral performance practice in traditional Sephardi-Mizrahi synagogues, and religious purpose, results in a unique sound. The congregants do not aim for musically refined variations, because for them the priority is the content of the prayer. With their praying, within the emphasis of the content of the prayer, the congregants produce a range of musical elements. Some of these elements include (1) the lowering or raising the pitch mainly at the beginning or/and ending of phrases, (2) changes in dynamics, applied to fragments of the prayer, (3) register changes, (4) changes in articulations including staccato and legato and (5) temporal changes, including changes in tempo and in the duration of individual notes. This creates a distinct sound and this distinct sound is my primary inspiration for integrating melodies that resemble Piyyutim.
Visions, Fantasies and Dances draw on two musical elements and sounds that are unique to prayers and Piyyutim. The first element is the characteristic heterophony of its choral singing and the second element is the integration of aspects of various modal systems including scales characterising Ashkenazi Piyyutim. These scales consist of three main modes, Ahavah Rabbah, Magein Avot and Adonai Malach. This heterophonic texture (described above) contains musical elements in ways that contradict Western classical performance practice. The most important of these relate to intonation and tone quality and many of these musical utterances would be considered inappropriate in Western choral performance. Visions, Fantasies and Dances faced the challenge of incorporating this type of heterophonic singing. Materials derived from prayers and Piyyutim are prominent in this quartet and apply in various ways in six out of the thirty-four sections/musical images. These six sections are Singing the Baqashot (Part 2, track 13), Nighttime prayer at the Western Wall (Part 3), Prayer of “The soul of every being” (Part 3, Track 15), Night watch prayer at the Western Wall (Part 3, Track 18), And in the midst of the holy thou shall be praised (Part 7, track 33) and Prayer for another day (Part 7, track 34).
Visions, Fantasies and Dances incorporates improvisations. My approach was to apply improvisation in a variety of different ways. I composed sections of improvisations that have some limitations and request improvising on specific musical elements and sections of improvisations that limit the performers to use only specific musical elements.
As mentioned above the titles of the sections evoke various musical images and transfer ideas and thoughts that inspired my work. The titles also function as a way to guide improvisation, as they suggest the feel of a given section and guide the improvisation regarding aspects such as intensity and style and to some degree articulation and dynamics. Along with the titles, explanatory notes for the improvisation have been added in the score. The musical images can be seen as a tool additional to notation and verbal instructions, to direct the performers in improvisation.
Improvisation based on ordered pitch collections can be seen in Vision of chaos and calamity (Part 2, track 10). Here I composed several rows for each instrument and instructed the performers to improvise phrases using the pitches prescribed in the order in which they were written. This method allows the composer to control the pitch structure while enabling the performers to define the emotional intensity of a given section. Aspects of integral Serialism, in which a series is applied to other musical parameters, allow for the manipulation of elements that are associated with Arabic music and limit the performers to improvise with specific musical materials. Further to the integration of Arabic music, semitones, tones and minor-thirds, intervals similar to the non-microtonal Maqamat, are applied in the pitch collections.
Looking for new compositional approaches and challenging musical conventions through the synthesis of a wide spectrum of contemporary and ancient styles is what motivated the composition of this work. Intellectual conflicts such as the confrontation with philosophical matters and religious and political aspects have always been of interest, and also underlie and motivated this work. I have been influenced in particular by Béla Bartók and Arnold Schoenberg to develop a personal vision as a composer.
In Israel, I grew up acutely aware of the tensions caused by the animosity between Palestinians and Israelis. Of profound significance were the sensory images of the shocking terror attack that occurred in a mall in central Jerusalem on December 3, 2001. The destruction and suffering caused by two suicide bombers was devastating and continues to haunt me to this day. This attack killed eleven innocent boys including my relative 19-year-old Moshe Yedid- Levy. In my music, my intention is not to refer directly to experiences such as this but rather to look at Arabic and Jewish matters from a human perspective and in conjunction with philosophical and religious concerns. I am a strong believer in the power of music to bring about understanding, change and reform in societies, and perhaps also between nations. In this work it is my wish to convey the idea of cultural pluralism.
Composition by Yitzhak Yedid. Acum.
Produced by Yitzhak Yedid
Coproduced by Volker Dueck
Recorded at the Jerusalem YMCA, Mary Nathaniel Concert Hall, on August 20th, 2012
Recording engineer: Avi Elbaz
Mixing engineering: Kim Cunio
Mastering by Jan Erik Kongshaug Rainbow Studio, Oslo, Norway
Artist Photos: Eduard Kosovich (Sapphire String Quartet) and Itamar Haarony (Yitzhak Yedid)
Cover Photo: Volker Dueck
Sapphire String Quertet
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Visions Fantasies & Dances (2007)
Music for string quartet
Commissioned by IBA music, 2006
Duration: 56 minutes
Score and 4 parts: PDF
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