Editor’s Note – 2nd issue
The theme of the second issue of “Peimot” is the dialogue that takes place between literature and music. Even though both disciplines are grounded in different, unique aesthetic principles, they blend together into a single entity in the wondrous moment of singing. This is a dialogue in which the voices of human and instrument are woven together into a complex treatise, in which the ideas of the poet and the musical ideas of the composer are combined. Both are harnessed in a joint effort to give emotional and conceptual expression to the different shades of color that voice and sound create in the craft of shared weaving.
The craft of weaving together literature and music has engaged composers throughout history. Every period has had its own interpretation of the connection between word and sound, of the way in which literature delegates its poetic language to music, and of the way in which basic musical concepts are transplanted into the world of literature. I shall present the idea raised by Roland Barthes, the 20th-century French philosopher, which claims that the inspiration for both arts is Orpheus, the mythological poet and singer, who dared to enter the gates of the underworld to bring his beloved back to life and revive her tangible reality. Barthes claims that Orpheus’s impossible journey—his attempt to use his voice to break the silence of death and to give genuine existence to an abstract entity—is the driving force behind both poetry and music, which will both continue to exist as long as Orpheus continues singing his eternal song of yearning.
The idea that there is a common source from which both literature and music draw their expressive potency has generated an array of diverse musical techniques, through which each composer expresses his personal and cultural worldview and desire to break the deathly silence of the Orphean underworld.
Several composers’ conceptual and cultural expression in their vocal works will be presented by the contributors of the 2nd issue of Peimot: five researchers will discuss these conceptual expressions using theoretical and analytical tools; two singers will present them through their personal perspectives, each focusing on her unique conceptual understanding of the way she sings; and an additional exploration of how they manifest themselves in the direction, singing, and special imagery in the Brecht/Weill opera Der Jasager. The three forms of expression will be divided into three sections: the theoretical, the personal, and the dramatic.
Out of the five articles in the theoretical section, two shed light on the forms of musical expression in the liturgical medium: Boris Kleiner writes about the liturgy of the Jews of Yemen. In his article, Kleiner presents a wide range of rhythmical expressions that are unique to the Torah reading of the Jews of Yemen. According to his understanding, the cantillations are interpreted by the Jews of Yemen as a kind of rhetorical-rhythmical system, which turns the expression of the text into a metered recitation—a unique phenomenon.
Composer Alona Epstein presents the modern story on which Leon Schidlowsky based his piece The Modern Passion. Schidlowsky broke the convention of using traditional liturgical texts and included in their stead poetic texts written by romantic and modern poets, in order to give human suffering both a personal and universal aspect. Epstein presents the interaction that is created between the poetic text and the visual imagery, while examining Schidlowsky’s unique graphic notation system, through which the performers give a personal, singular interpretation of his musical ideas.
The three other articles discuss one post-romantic work— Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde—and two modern works—the opera Neither by Morton Feldman (based on a text by Samuel Beckett) and the vocal works of Helmut Lachenmann.
Musicologist Niza Abravaya sheds light on the autobiographical dimension as a foundational element of Mahler’s song cycle Das Lied von der Erde. Mahler’s musical language is characterized by motives that are simultaneously “musical building blocks” and personal and literary symbols. Their presence is also notable in his textless compositions, but they are especially pronounced in Das Lied von Der Erde, arguably his most personal work. The pinnacle of the musical-literary-autobiographical synthesis is the final movement, “Der Abscheid” (“the Farewell”), in which Mahler significantly alters the ancient Chinese text.
In his article on the opera Neither, composer Nimrod Sahar shows the way in which playwright Samuel Beckett and composer Morton Feldman breach the limits of known language. Beckett establishes the endless “journey” that the character undergoes in the short poetic text—from the world of shades to the outside world—through the symbolic meaning that Beckett gives to banal words and the conceptual rhythm given to conjunctions and prepositions. Feldman establishes the static movement of the metaphysical journey by extending the harmonic movement over such long stretches that every simple gesture become a structure. According to Sahar, the static movement adds to the continuous present’s infinite feel, giving the sense it has no predetermined direction.
Composer and musicologist Yuval Shaked presents music by Helmut Lachenmann, music which has a textual component and in which the composer searches for forms of musical expression to help rescue the poetic text from its banal empty expressions. Lachenmann uses well-known quotes from Western culture and removes them from the original meaning through tonal, rhythmical, and structural quotations, which challenge the musical techniques of modernist composition. These quotations serve—to use a phrase coined by Shaked—as a “whispering foundation,” a phonetic and semantic one which provides new life to well-known poetic expressions.
The second section of the issue features two articles by two singers, each presenting a different conception of how the singer performs the act of weaving between the two languages. The first singer, Mira Zakai, penetrates into the soul of the poetic text and searches for acoustic, emotional, and cognitive means of expression, through which she can find the perfect mode of expression for her singing. The second singer, Ruchama Danzig, scrupulously takes care of the prosodic element of the poetic expression, and claims that maintaining the prosodic structures is the way to get to the soul of the work of music. She illustrates her attitude toward singing by examining the dialogue between the composer and the poet in Richard Strauss’s opera Capriccio.
The third section presents a number of short articles that relate to the opera Der Jasager by Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht. The opera is a short didactic opera for kids, and according to director Michal Grover-Freidlander, the deceptive simplicity of the music and the text makes the vocal and theatrical interpretation difficult. The opera deliberately avoids direct expressiveness and defamiliarizes the manifestation of the characters’ evilness. Thus, the director finds that a possible way of embodying the Brechtian alienation is to present against it an extreme form of the human voice—an artificial, highly stylized operatic voice that simulates an independent object. If we return to the myth of Orpheus, this is the yearning voice that fails in its attempt to save the human from the underworld.
Composer Oded Assaf also maintains that the opera has a deceptive musical-textual simplicity. Assaf presents a number of musical examples whose tonal uncertainty reflects Brecht’s ambiguous message regarding the idea of collective agreement and the individual’s ability to stand up for his right to say “no.” To support the alienating and ambiguous position which Brecht presents in the dramatic text, Weill incorporates into the opera polyphonic Baroque techniques with the compositional principles of Jazz and Cabaret.
This idea is also expressed in the stage designed by philosopher Eli Friedlander. The spaces give a double perspective of distance, which expresses the journey toward redemption and the closeness to the home environment, which reflects the emotional fixation the characters seek to overcome in their journey toward the distant mountains.
The enigmatic level of the opera is presented by Ido Levitt through the rich, hypnotic sonorous space which overflows the opera, a space that is intended to camouflage the horrible messages that lay hidden in the operatic story: the practice of throwing sick kids to their death and to continue paradoxically on the holy road toward redemption.
Philosopher Tzvi Tauber examines the ambiguous messages that Brecht presents in both Der Jasager and Der Neinsager. On the one hand, there is an individual who feels guilty after being forced to sentence a sick person to death. On the other hand, the individual needs to continue his journey of purification and to accept the verdict, since the sick person defiles the pilgrims in their sacred journey.
The contribution of Yaniv Baruch—who rewrote the play translated by Aharon Shabtai in a way that fits the music by Kurt Weill— is worth noting.
A final remark: a long time passed between the appearance of the 1st and 2nd issue. There was good reason for this. The main theme of the 2nd issue is explored from several different angles, by several researchers who went to great length to present their positions. The wide range of subjects and the contributors’ need to present their best effort give the publication its unique character.