Friday, September 30, 2011

Fiddler on the Roof: Tradition & Overture

Lyrics by: Sheldon Harnick
Music by: Jerry Bock
Music Adaptation by: John Williams
Productions: Broadway (1964); West End (1967); Film (1971);
and many others, including productions in Hebrew and in Yiddish.

This video clip is from the 1971 film, Fiddler on the Roof  with “Tradition” and the “Overture” of Isaac Stern playing the cadenza, representing the proverbial fiddler on the roof. The film, directed by Norman Jewison, is based on the stage musical (1964) which itself is based on the stories (Tevye and Tevye and his Daughters) published by Yiddish-writer, Sholom Aleichem in 1894. Aleichem has been called the Russian Mark Twain for his use of irony and humour.

Although the film is set in pre-revolutionary czarist Russia of 1905, its significance is universal. Fiddler on the Roof touches upon all the universal values and virtues that are important for all humanity, including the fight for freedom, equality, individual dignity and imagination. Such ideas become particularly poignant when under the yoke of oppression of a powerful and immoral State that fails to protect all of its inhabitants.

And, yet, like the fiddler playing on the roof, life marches forward with joy and tradition, despite the very precariousness of it. Tradition in many ways strongly binds the Jewish people, its ancient ways often (notably today) might seem imposing and restrictive, yet such is its strength. In times of national stress, people look to tradition as a guide, a marker, a rock of survival. Tradition remains faithful, ever-present. It defines the story of the Jewish People throughout the ages, and even the most secular and progressive apprehend and respond to that reality, albeit with some reluctance.

By Sheldon Harnick & Jerry Bock

Tradition, tradition! Tradition!
Tradition, tradition! Tradition!

Who, day and night, must scramble for a living,
Feed a wife and children, say his daily prayers?
And who has the right, as master of the house,
To have the final word at home?

The Papa, the Papa! Tradition.
The Papa, the Papa! Tradition.

Who must know the way to make a proper home,
A quiet home, a kosher home?
Who must raise the family and run the home,
So Papa's free to read the holy books?

The Mama, the Mama! Tradition!
The Mama, the Mama! Tradition!

At three, I started Hebrew school. At ten, I learned a trade.
I hear they've picked a bride for me. I hope she's pretty.

The son, the son! Tradition!
The son, the son! Tradition!

And who does Mama teach to mend and tend and fix,
Preparing her to marry whoever Papa picks?

The daughter, the daughter! Tradition!
The daughter, the daughter! Tradition!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Israel Philharmonic: Mozart's Magic Flute Overture

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra performs W.A. Mozart's Magic Flute Overture, Zubin Mehta conducting. Mozart composed the two-act opera, The Magic Flute (K620), which in the original German was entitled Die Zauberflöte, in 1791. Emanuel Schikaneder wrote the German libretto. The opera's synopsis can be found here. It is the most frequently performed opera in the world.

The opera premiered at Vienna's Freihaus-Theater auf der Wieden on September 30, 1791. Mozart conducted the orchestra, Schikaneder played the title role of  Papageno and the role of the Queen of the Night was sung by Mozart's sister-in-law Josepha Hofer. The opera was an immediate success, lifting the spirits of Mozart, who fell ill. He did not live to see the 100th performance of the opera. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the world's greatest composers, died on December 5, 1791. He was 35. Although much speculation as to the cause of death has circulated over the years, including poisoning by a rival, the consensus is that Mozart died of rheumatic fever.

The Magic Flute: Playbill announcing the premiere of the opera.
Source: Wikipedia

There is also a wonderful version here of James Levine conducting The Met in New York City.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Valuing Humility

Religion & Society

This was originally posted on September 8, 2010. I am republishing it here as a reminder to us all, no matter one's religious observance or practices, of the universal virtues of humility. It's an appropriate time of thinking about such things, and to say "sorry" to anyone that we've wronged or hurt. Today at sundown marks the beginning of the period, in the Jewish calendar, of Yamim Noraim (Hebrew: ימים נוראים‎), or the "Days of Awe."

It is traditionally called the High Holidays or High Holy Days, a ten-day period of introspection, self-examination, and repentance. The period starts with Rosh Hashanah (today), the Jewish New Year, and culminates with Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.
To those observing the holiday, my wish is for a healthy, happy and sweet year.  Or the traditional greeting, Shana Tova Umetukah, which in Hebrew, שנה טובה ומתוקה, means "A Good and Sweet Year.

"[Humility] does not mean undervaluing yourself. It means valuing other people."
Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks,
Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, "On Humility"

False Humility: Uriah Heep from Charles Dickens' David Copperfield.
Credit: Ink and wash drawing by Fred Barnard (1846-1896);
© 2005 Charles Dickens Museum
Source: Wikipedia

We have been witnessing an erosion of the virtue of humility in the last 50 years, the loss becoming more evident in the last few years in the Age of Celebrity. Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the British Commonwealth, has written a wonderfully human essay on the value of humility. Here is a brief passage: 
Humility is the orphaned virtue of our age. Charles Dickens dealt it a mortal blow in his portrayal of the unctuous Uriah Heep, the man who kept saying, "I am the 'umblest person going." Its demise, though, came a century later with the threatening anonymity of mass culture alongside the loss of neighbourhoods and congregations. A community is a place of friends. Urban society is a landscape of strangers.

Yet there is an irrepressible human urge for recognition. So a culture emerged out of the various ways of "making a statement" to people we do not know, but who, we hope, will somehow notice. Beliefs ceased to be things confessed in prayer and became slogans emblazoned on t-shirts. A comprehensive repertoire developed of signalling individuality, from personalized number-plates, to in-your-face dressing, to designer labels worn on the outside, not within.

You can trace an entire cultural transformation in the shift from renown to fame to celebrity to being famous for being famous. The creed of our age is, "If you've got it, flaunt it." Humility, being humble, did not stand a chance.
But it's making a comeback, notably among those who are not blind to its virtues. It might not appear beneficial to act with humility, seen as it is in this age of self-aggrandizement and self-promotion as foolish and unproductive. Yet, its benefits are universal and liberating.

When you act with humility, and wear it as a well-worn suit, you will never be at a loss for true friends, something of great value in culture where fame is fleeting. It's a virtue worth cultivating, chiefly because doing so makes you a better person.

In defence for humility, I leave the final word to Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: "Virtues may be out of fashion, but they are never out of date. The things that call attention to themselves are never interesting for long, which is why our attention span grows shorter by the year. Humility—the polar opposite of 'advertisements for myself—never fails to leave its afterglow."

On Humility: Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the UK, at National Poverty Hearing 2006 at Westminster, London, says: "Humility—true humility—is one "one of the most expansive and life-enhancing of all virtues."
Photo Credit: Cooperniall, December 6, 2006.
There is also a video, from Rabbi Sacks on the importance of saying "sorry." It's worth your time to view it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Josef Hofmann: Sergei Rachmaninoff Prelude in G Minor

In this old clip, Josef Hofmann performs Sergei Rachmaninoff's Prelude in G Minor, Op.23, no 5, at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, on November 28, 1937. It coincides with the 50th anniversary of his debut. Rachmaninoff completed the work in 1901; it was the first of his ten Opus 23 compositions that were completed, the last two years later in 1903.

Josef Hofmann was born to Kazimierz Hofmann and Matylda Hofmann (nee Pindelska) in Podgorze, Poland on January 20, 1876. His parents were musically inclined; his father a composer, conductor and pianist and his mother a singer of light opera. The young Hofmann, who was instructed by his father until the age of 10, was a child prodigy who began performing at the age of six. When Anton Rubinstein heard him perform at age seven, he declared him "a talent." He started traveling around Europe giving concerts in all the major urban centres, including in Germany, France, Holland, Norway and Denmark.

He was the first professional musician in history to make a recording, which he did when he visited Thomas Edison's laboratories and made several cylinder recordings in 1887. He was not yet 12. He was in America for a three-month tour, for which he (or likely his family) was paid $10,000. It called for 50 recitals, 17 at the famed Metropolitan Opera House. Yet, as Wikipedia writes, it was not without controversy.
[T]he Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children stepped in, citing the boy's fragile health. However, as per the contract that had paid Hofmann $10,000, he was legally obliged to complete the tour. The contract was rendered void by Alfred Corning Clark who donated $50,000 and, in turn, legally forbade Hofmann to perform in public until he turned 18 years old.[2] The final segment of the tour was cancelled and the family returned to Potsdam, outside Berlin. This marked the end of Hofmann's child prodigy years.
In 1892, Anton Rubinstein accepted Hofmann as his only private pupil.  Hofmann traveled by train twice a week to Rubinstein's home, 42 sessions in all. When Hofmann was 18, Rubinstein arranged Hoffman's adult debut in Hamburg's Symphonic Assembly Hall, on March 14, 1894. He played Rubinstein's Piano Concerto No. 4 in D minor, with the composer conducting. That ended the relationship; Rubinstein died later that year in November. 

He moved to the United States during the First World War, and became a citizen in 1926. He had become the first head of the piano department at the inception of the Curtis Institute of Music, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1924, its director between 1927 and 1938. By then, however, alcoholism had started to take its toll on his playing and perhaps his thinking. Commenting on his decline was Rachmaninoff, who noted: "Hofmann is still sky high ... the greatest pianist alive if he is sober and in form. Otherwise, it is impossible to recognize the Hofmann of old." He gave his last performance at Carnegie Hall in 1946.

Hofmann was also a composer, publishing more than one hundred works, many under the pseudonym, Michel Dvorsky. There's more to Hofmann, who was also an innovator of another kind, an inventor, holding 70 patents, including for parts for the automobile and design mechanisms for the piano. Such a talented man: musician, composer and inventor. Josef Hofmann died of pneumonia in Los Angeles, California, on February 16, 1957. He was 81. He was survived by four children, and his second wife, Betty Short, who had been one of his pupils.

Josef Hofmann [1876-1957]: "Perfect sincerity plus perfect simplicity equals perfect achievement."
Photo Credit: George Grantham Bain Collection (U.S. Library of Congress).
Source:U.S. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Div.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Fleetwood Mac: Don't Stop

Written by: Christine McVie
Recorded: 1976
Released: March 1977 (UK): July 6, 1977 (USA)
Album: Rumours
Label: Warner Brothers

This is a song that I enjoyed back in the late 1970s, performed by a group that were highly popular then, Fleetwood Mac, a British-American band. The song is a catchy tune that speaks about looking forward and not back when things take an unexpected turn for the worse. The advice is not always appropriate, of course, since reflection and evaluation are necessary in human decision making. Yet, in some cases it makes perfect sense. I am posting it now for no reason other than nostalgia, so, in a sense I am looking back. The album's title is "Rumours."

Fleetwood Mac: The album Rumours contained the hit single, "Don't Stop.": 1977.
To date the album has sold over 40 million copies worldwide, ranking it among the top- ten selling albums of all time.
Source: Wikipedia

Don't Stop
Written by Christine McVie.

If you wake up and don't want to smile,
If it takes just a little while,
Open your eyes and look at the day,
You'll see things in a different way.

Don't stop, thinking about tomorrow,
Don't stop, it'll soon be here,
It'll be, better than before,
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone.

Why not think about times to come,
And not about the things that you've done,
If your life was bad to you,
Just think what tomorrow will do.

Don't stop, thinking about tomorrow,
Don't stop, it'll soon be here,
It'll be, better than before,
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone.

All I want is to see you smile,
If it takes just a little while,
I know you don't believe that it's true,
I never meant any harm to you.

Don't stop, thinking about tomorrow,
Don't stop, it'll soon be here,
It'll be, better than before,
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone.

Don't you look back,
Don't you look back.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Evgeny Kissin: Flight Of The Bumblebee

Evgeny Kissin plays "Flight of the Bumblebee," a work that Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov composed for his opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan (1899-1900). The libretto was written by Vladimir Belsky, after Aleksandr Pushkin's fairy-tale poem of the same name.

The piece closes Act III, scene 2, during which time the magic Swan-Bird changes Prince Gvidon Saltanovich, the Tsar's son, into an insect —enabling him to fly away to visit his father who does not know that he is alive. The opera was first performed at Moscow's: Solodovnikov Theatre on November 3, 1900. (The synopsis for the opera can be found here.)

There are versions played on many instruments, including a fine violin version by Yehudi Menuhin here; and a trumpet version here by Wynton Marsalis, a noted and talented jazz musician.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov [1844-1908]: Portrait from 1898 before he composed the opera, The Tale of Tsar Saltan.
Painting by: Valentin Serov [1865-1911]; in 1898: At the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
Source: Wikipedia
For those interested in the science of how bumblebees fly, there is an excellent article here. It disproves the earlier held theory, and popularly believed myth, that bumblebees were poorly designed for aerodynamic flight.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

On Excesses

Yesterday, when a a power outage and a professional day at school coincided, I took my two young boys out for breakfast, since I couldn't write or do any work at home. At the restaurant, I was soon reminded of how the idea of "more is better" might be hard-wired into our genetic code. My older son (aged nine) ordered French toast with chocolate sauce; and my youngest (aged three) ordered eggs, potatoes and toast. Well, actually I ordered it for him and he agreed with me. I should mention here that my two boys are thin and tall, much like their parents, and like a majority of children, love chocolate. It can be an indulgence.

As soon as my oldest boy received his order, he promptly poured the full container of chocolate sauce on the two thick pieces of French toast, so much so that I could see that the pieces of bread were saturated. I didn't say much as I enjoyed my eggs Florentine and my youngest his scrambled eggs and some of the strawberries and melons that came with my dish.

After about 15 minutes, I noticed that my oldest boy had left one of the two French toast on his plate, making half-hearted attempts to eat it.  To which I remarked, as any parent would: "I think that you put too much chocolate sauce on it. But you don't have to eat it. It's OK. But you might remember this as a lesson for next time." His remark was: "No, it's good, I like it this way. It's just that I am full. Did you see the size of the French toast. They're huge."

I nodded my head and smiled, and allowed my son to save face. But this little anecdote reminded me of a number of things about excesses, inside and outside the kitchen or dining room. In the area of eating, Prof George Jochnowitz wrote an essay, "Eat, Darling, Eat" on how parents have often used guilt as a mechanism to make children clean up their plates. It didn't happen often with me while I was growing up, but was fairly common among Jewish immigrant households, notably immigrants coming out of the Second World War. It's an essay worth reading.

Now, when I think of other excesses, there are many that come to mind, as excesses come in many shapes and sizes and in various forms. One is in the world of business, where the idea or fad that more is better has long been with us. As a journalist working for the trade and business press (between 1996 and 2007), I wrote many articles on corporate mergers and how they would result in "expected" cost savings through increased "synergies, efficiency and productivity"—a triad of words used in almost every press release that landed on my desk.

But what employees always knew and dreaded was that mergers translated to a a reduced or trimmer workforce. In other words, most of the anticipated savings, passed on to shareholders through higher stock prices, would come about only through mass layoffs and firings. About 20 per cent was a standard figure.

Wall Street would love what it saw in a "bigger is better" mania and reward the companies, so to speak, for their diligence and perhaps their indulgences. Stock prices would temporarily increase, the shareholders would become elated, including not surprisingly the top executives holding huge stock options. The rest of the story is so well known that it has become almost a business cliché: every chief executive walks away with millions after leaving his position. It matters little how well his company fared post facto. All that mattered was that the stock prices went up, and costs went down. The excesses, well, that's another matter. With increased excesses came increased cynicism from the public, not a good thing, but alas expected.

More is not always better, for companies or children. I thank my oldest son, chocolate on his face as we left the restaurant, for reminding me of this lesson for life.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Leonard Bernstein Directs Maurice Ravel's 'La Valse'

Here is a short clip from the National Orchestra of France's performance of Maurice Ravel's "La Valse," under the powerful and emotional direction of Leonard Bernstein, at Le Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, in Paris, France (1975).

In some people's minds, certainly true of my generation, the only reference they have on the French composer Maurice Ravel [1875-1937] is the musical piece Boléro (1928), the one-movement orchestral piece made popular by the 1979 Hollywood film "10." The full orchestral piece runs to an average 15 minutes, although Ravel preferred a slower tempo, of around 17 minutes.

In the film's soundtrack where Bolero is performed, for about four minutes, the drum tempo and wind instruments rhythmically guide the sexual exploits of a couple. It was played extensively in the 1980s so much so that I tired and often dreaded of hearing it. Ravel didn't like the piece much. Even so, it achieved a certain popularity, and remains one of the most widely played orchestral numbers, probably because audiences expect it and demand it.

I raise this point to make another point. You can never tell what people will like later on. Music (re)discovered later on might become more appealing when the tenor of the times change and there is a sufficient distance between its creator and audience. It's interesting to note here that Ravel's Bolero might have been influenced by George Gershwin, whom he met in New York in 1928, and as the story goes remarked in a self-deprecating fashion: "You might lose your spontaneity and, instead of composing first-rate Gershwin, end up with second rate Ravel."

Well, Ravel's "La Valse" is first-rate and composed before that meeting between the American and Frenchman. A tribute to a lost age in the aftermath of the First World War, also called The Great War, it resonates with me now that I have past my 40s and into my 50s, and memory becomes more important. It was first performed by the Lamoureux Orchestra under the direction of Camille Chevillard in  Paris on December 12, 1920. The music's interpretation is clear:
The music has been widely interpreted as a salute to a vanished world, an evocation of the elegance and refinement of an Imperial era. It plays off the carefree rhythms of the Viennese waltz with a menacing, discordant undertone: echoes, perhaps, of the brutal disturbances of World War I.
The Great War is almost a century behind us. Other wars, no less brutal and destructive, have taken place in Europe and elsewhere. The music's appeal is the same. With each war, we lose something. Yet, the music helps us remember of what it was and what it could be. Leonard Bernstein is caught up in the memory of the music. Beauty has a universal language.

Maurice Ravel [1875-1937]:  Taken in 1907 in a rare photo of Ravel sporting facial hair. In the preface to the score of La Valse, the ballet, Ravel writes: "Through whirling clouds, waltzing couples may be faintly distinguished. The clouds gradually scatter: one sees at letter A an immense hall peopled with a whirling crowd. The scene is gradually illuminated. The light of the chandeliers bursts forth at the fortissimo letter B. Set in an imperial court, about 1855."
Photo Credit: Pierre Petit (1832-1909).
Source: Wikipedia

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Krystian Zimerman: Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5

Krystian Zimerman performs Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, in E-flat major, Op. 73: fist movement, with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein conducting.

This is popularly known as the Emperor Concerto, which was completed in 1809, and premiered at the  Gewandhaus in Leipzig in November 1811. The honours of the solo were given to Friedrich Schneider, a young church organist. When the “Emperor” premiered in Vienna, in February 1812, the solo part was interpreted by Beethoven’s pupil and friend Carl Czerny.

As for the title, "Emperor," that was not Beethoven's doing, notes a site dedicated to Beethoven
The powerful themes and heroic note of the composition, lead to the name Emperor for this concerto. The name “Emperor” dates from Beethoven’s time but was not given by Beethoven himself. Since the composer had little regard for emperors, he would be unlikely to name one of his own works for a class of people he disliked. While evidence is not clear, it seems that the name was given by a close friend of Beethoven, German composer Johann Baptist Cramer.
In fact, Johann Baptist Cramer was considered an English musician of German extraction, whose parents moved to London when he was a young child. It was Cramer's publishing company, Cramer & Keyes (later J.B. Cramer & Co., Ltd.) in London, which was the English publisher of this concerto and which gave it the title of "Emperor."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Glenn Gould: Bach Partita No. 2

Glenn Gould, in his early years, practices J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 2 in C minor (BWV 826). There is another informative clip Art of Piano,”on Gould’s thoughts on the relationship between performer and audience, and on reducing the mental, emotional and, most important, the spiritual distance between them.

Glenn Gould [1932-1982] was arguably the greatest pianist that ever came out of Canada, and we are naturally proud of him. (Gould would argue that he was not a pianist but a musician and composer.) His playing was not only technically brilliant but also marked by a courageous and free interpretation of famous musical scores.

His interpretation of Bach is how his reputation will forever be established. At times, perhaps more often than with other soloists, however, his style and interpretation provoked the consternation of many, including Leonard Bernstein, in April 1962, who here was highly critical of Gould's conception of a Brahms piece despite eventually trying to smooth things over by calling Gould's playing "a spirit of adventure."

If Gould was considered anti-traditional, it was done so in a spirit of adventure wrapped up in imagination. What this scenario between Gould and Bernstein reveals is a classical power struggle between the conductor and soloist, both great in their own right. But Gould might have been greater, a genius. One of the marks of genius is being your own man, not dogmatic but sure and unafraid of comments or criticisms.

Gould stuck to his convictions about music and interpretation, and that is one of the things that many found appealing, even if they disliked his interpretation. Today, there are few if any known soloists who have such convictions, many becoming perfectly technical and bland carbon copies of each other, their performances and playing unremarkable, spiritless and quickly forgotten after leaving the concert hall. Such says much about the tenor of our times, a palpable fear of individuality.

Even then, Gould distinguished himself as an individual, by playing differently than his contemporaries. Instead of striking the keys from above, as is commonly done, Gould pulled down on the keys while sitting low to the keyboard on a chair his father built for him. It likely gave him more control. His father built the adjustable chair after Gould injured his back at age ten when he fell from a boat ramp on Lake Simcoe.
I cite from an earlier post of mine Here:
Gould, a native of Toronto, was a child prodigy. At age three, Gould showed that he had perfect pitch. He learned to read sheet music before he learned to read words, showing his musical aptitude. By age five, Gould was already working on his own compositions.

His first teacher, until the age of ten, was his mother, whose ancestry included the famous composer, Edvard Grieg. (Gould's great grandfather was Grieg's first cousin.) Gould stopped performing at live concerts at age 31 to focus on recordings and other projects. Gould performed fewer than 200 concerts, and no more than 40 overseas, in his short lifetime.

Much, perhaps too much, has been written about Gould's outward peculiarities, such as humming or singing when he played (as he does here), the need to sit fourteen inches above the floor and only perform in a chair built by his father. (You can see Gould performing here.) 

Then there was the matter of Gould's awkward social behavior, which was discussed too much. Gould was considered an eccentric for wearing gloves, a beret and an overcoat, even in warm weather. He also was adverse to being touched and later in life avoided most personal intercourse, communicating chiefly by phone and letters.

Yet, he was a man of deep habits, says a CBC documentary on Gould:  "Sometime between two and three every morning Gould would go to Fran's, a 24-hour diner a block away from his Toronto apartment, sit in the same booth and order the same meal of scrambled eggs."

Gould With His Dog, an English setter, Nick, in 1940. "By the time I was six," he confessed in a 1979 documentary Cities: Glenn Gould's Toronto, "I made an important discovery that I get along much better with animals than humans."
Photo Credit: Gordon W. Powley
SourceArchives Ontario

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Vienna Philharmonic: Main Theme From Star Wars

The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra plays the main theme from Star Wars during the annual Vienna Philharmonic Summer Night Concert at Schönbrunn Palace Gardens, on June 8, 2010, before an estimated audience of 100,000 people. With Franz Welser-Möst conducting, this piece was part of a tribute to "Moon, Planets and Stars."

I am putting this on for my nine-year-old son, a big far of Star Wars and all things space and planetary, and for others who enjoy the film series. Admittedly, I number among the fans of the space opera film series that George Lucas created, numbering six episodes between 1977 and 2005. John Williams, the great American composer, wrote the score, the main theme music associated with Star Wars.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Bucharest Philharmonic: Marriage of Figaro Overture

The Bucharest Philharmonic Orchestra performs Mozart's Marriage of Figaro (Overture), Misha Katz conducting.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed this comic opera ("Le Nozze di Figaro"), in four acts, and Lorenzo Da Ponte penned the Italian libretto. It is based on a stage comedy by Pierre Beaumarchais, La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro (1784). The opera was first performed at the Burgtheater in Vienna on May 1, 1786, with Mozart conducting while seated at the keyboard.

The setting is a country estate in late eighteenth century Seville, Spain. (The synopsis can be found here.) The overture is a popular favourite with orchestras and audiences the world over, another testament to the genius of Mozart. Some consider this the perfect opera, says a review in the Los Angeles Times:

Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” has been called the perfect opera. David Cairns, in his keen recent study, “Mozart and His Operas,” goes out on a limb: “For the first time music has found the means of embodying the interplay of living people." No opera by Mozart or anyone else, the British scholar further contends, is so "in total harmony with itself.”

Libretto from The Marriage of Figaro (1786).
Source: Wikipedia

Krystian Zimerman: Gershwin's Three Preludes

From a performance in Japan, Krystian Zimerman, the well-known Polish pianist, plays "Three Preludes" by George Gershwin, one of the most popular and accomplished American composers of the twentieth century. This video is from a recent performance, circa 2009 or perhaps 2010, I am not quite sure. Still, it's wonderful to view a classical musician of the calibre of Zimerman playing Gershwin and hearing his sublime interpretation.

The three preludes are as follows
1. Allegro ben ritmato e deciso
2. Andante con moto e poco rubato
3. Allegro ben ritmato e deciso
Although Gershwin is best known for compositions like Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and An American in Paris (1928), as well as the opera, Porgy and Bess (1935), he also composed  orchestral and piano compositions, such as this one. George Gershwin was born Jacob Gershowitz in Brooklyn, New York to Morris (Moishe) and Rosa Gershowitz (nee Bruskin) in Brooklyn, New York, on September 26, 1898. His parents, Jewish immigrants from Russia, met and married in New York City in 1895. Gershwin himself first performed the piece at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City in 1926.

For the record, here is a recording of Gershwin playing the "Three Preludes," though the sound quality is understandably poor.

George Gershwin [1898-1937]. This photo was taken on March 28, 1937. Less than four months later, on July 11, 1937, George Gershwin would die from a brain tumour. He was 38.
Photo Credit: Carl van Vechten [1880-1964]; Taken on March 28, 1937
Source: US Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Div.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Glenn Gould: Bach Concerto No 7

Glenn Gould plays J.S. Bach's Concerto No 7 in G minor, BWV 1058, with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Vladimir Golschmann conducting. This is taken from a CBC television Centennial Performance of November 15, 1967, and is Gould's first colour telecast. Bach completed the piece for harpsichord in 1738.

You can read more on Glenn Gould here and here.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Vladimir Ashkenazy: Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1

Vladimir Ashkenazy performs Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No.1: 3rd movement, at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, Russia (April 1–May, 7, 1962). The competition, which began in 1958, is held every four years. This performance was from the second edition, where Ashkenazy shared first place with John Ogdon. The list of prize winners is as follows:
First Prize: Vladimir Ashkenazi (USSR), John Ogdon (Great Britain)
Second Prize: Susan Starr (USA), In Chen Zong (China)
Third Prize: Eliso Virsaladze (USSR)
Fourth Prize: Marina Mdivani (USSR)
Fifth Prize: Valery Kamyshov (USSR)
Sixth Prize: Christian Biyo (France), Alexey Nasedkin (USSR)
A year later, in 1963, Vladimir Ashkenazy and his wife Thorunn Johannsdottir (nicknamed Dodie) left the USSR for London, England. He had met his wife, a native of Iceland and also a pianist, while she was in the USSR as a student at the Moscow Conservatory. After a few years in London, they settled in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1968. In 1972 he became a citizen of Iceland. Since 1978, the couple has established a home in Meggen, outside Lucerne, Switzerland, chiefly for its proximity to European centres. The couple, who married in 1961, have five children: Vladimir Stefan, Nadia Liza, Dmitri Thor, Sonia Edda, and Alexandra Inga.

Ashkenazy, who was born to Evstolia Plotnova and David Ashkenazy in Gorky, USSR (now Nizhny Novgorod, Russia)  on July 6, 1937. His father was a non-observant Russian Jew, and his mother was a Russian of Eastern Orthodox faith. He is known for favouring turtlenecks over more formal attire.

Ashkenazy, now 74, remains active as both a pianist and conductor. He is currently Principal Conductor and Artistic Adviser of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. He is particularly known for his performance of Romantic and Russian composers including Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Chopin and Schumann.

Ashkenazy returned to Russia, after an absence of 26 years, in November 1989, when the political situation was changing. The Los Angeles Times reported then, on November 13, 1989:
Crowds filled the streets outside the Moscow Conservatory, where he performed, the luminaries of Soviet culture came to pay homage, taking up virtually every waking moment of his five days here, and gray-haired grandmothers who knew Ashkenazy when they were all at school came to renew their friendship.
"The emotions of a return like this are tremendously conflicting," Ashkenazy said at the outset of his visit. "But the joy of coming back under these circumstances and seeing this rebirth here overcomes the sadness of the past."

Invited back by the Soviet Cultural Fund, which operates under the patronage of Raisa Gorbachev, the wife of the country's president, Ashkenazy conducted two charity concerts over the weekend by Britain's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, of which he is the music director and which is en route to Japan for a tour.

"Had I been invited earlier, I would have thought not just twice or three times about accepting, but 10 times or more before agreeing to come," Ashkenazy said. "What was happening to this country and its people then had to be opposed and denounced. . . .

"But I thought that by accepting now and coming to Moscow that I would in a modest way endorse what is happening in my country, to support the changes that perestroika, glasnost and democratization are bringing."

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Apology of Nations

apology (n): a written or spoken expression of one's regret, remorse, or sorrow for having insulted, failed, injured, or wronged another.
When someone says "I am sorry that you were offended" what is he really saying? Is he saying that his words should not have been taken in a bad way, but that you unfortunately did? Is he really defending his actions as morally right? In some cases, this is how an apology is offered between individuals, not sincere or contrite. It might have to do with another older meaning of the word. An apology in classical terms comes from the word apologia. (Gk: an apology, as in defense or justification of a belief, idea, etc.). It is a speech in defense of an idea or action, as was the case in such famous apologetics as Plato's Apology of Socrates and Milton's Areopagitica.

Today, however, apology has a more emotional, if you may, visceral meaning and is closest to the dictionary denotation cited above, an expression of regret, remorse or sorrow for an action that wronged someone or a group of persons, a people, a nation, a race. Such is particularly the case when we come to define national apologies. So, what is the reason that apologies are given? Essentially, it's a form of communication, whether to skillfully defend an action or idea, or to express regret.

Apologies at the highest level can also offer therapeutic value to the nation or group that offers the apology and heal its internal wounds. Some consider such gestures symbolic and hollow, even meaningless. Others as a sign of weakness. Such are the words of cynics and skeptics. I disagree and believe that apologies form a foundational way for nations to amend for wrongs committed. They make things better, similar to how relations between individuals can become better by one making a simple apology to another.

Remember that apologies have been part of diplomatic strategies and rhetoric among nations and are as ancient as they are human. They are also desired, even demanded on the international stage. When for example, one nation deems another nation's action wrong, it requests (or demands) a formal apology accompanied by some form of financial restitution (or redress), the amount dependent on the severity of the loss—similar to a civil lawsuit but with greater political implications.

Of course, placing a value on a human life might seem callous to some, but there is no other remedy under international law and precedent deems this as the best remedy to settle disputes. A recent incident is the diplomatic rift between Israel and Turkey over the Mavi Marmara incident (see here and here.)
Image result for willy brandt warsaw
The Silent Apology: During a state visit to Poland on December 7, 1970, coinciding with a commemoration to the Jewish victims of the Warsaw Ghetto, Willy Brandt, the chancellor of West Germany, joined in and spontaneously dropped to his knees before the monument of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Notable National Apologies

We'll return to that case shortly, but first it's important to review some notable national apologies of some consequence and historical significance:
1. Germany—The Shoah ("Holocaust"):  During a state visit to Poland in December 1970, coinciding with a commemoration to the Jewish victims of the Warsaw Ghetto, Willy Brandt, the chancellor of West Germany, joined in and spontaneously dropped to his knees. Brandt was silent, and later said in his autobiography, that upon "carrying the burden of the millions who were murdered, I did what people do when words fail them." Germany has since paid out billions to Israel and to Jewish survivors.
2. United States— American Slavery and Jim Crow laws: After U.S. President Barack Obama was in office for six months, the American Congress issued a federal apology on July 29, 2009. In the legal document, it said the resolution could not be used as a legal basis for reparations. It said: "Nothing in this resolution authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States."
3. South Africa—Apartheid: F.W. de Klerk, the last South African leader of the apartheid era, appeared before the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission on August 21, 1996, to apologize for 46 years of oppression, saying the racist policy was "deeply mistaken." The government paid out US$74 million—$300 million less than the sum recommended by the commission—to more than 19,000 victims. That is less than $4,000 per victim.
4. United States—Internment of Japanese-Americans. During the Second World War, between 1942 and 1945, more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans were placed in internment camps. More than forty years later, President Ronald Reagan signed the official Civil Liberties Act of 1988 on August 10, 1988, which included a $1.25-billion education fund. Two years later, on October 9, 1990, the George H.W. Bush administration started paying out $20,000 to each of the surviving internment victims. (Here is an example of a presidential letter of apology that accompanied the cheques.)
Canadian Apology: Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine (right, wearing headdress) watches as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially apologizes, on June 11, 2008, for more than a century of abuse and cultural loss involving Indian residential schools.
Photo Credit: Canadian Press/Tom Hanson
Source: FindingDulcinea
Notable Canadian Apologies

In Canada, my country of birth and residency, the federal government has offered apologies and compensation to:
1.Japanese-Canadians:  In September 1988, the Government of Canada formally apologized in the House of Commons and offered compensation for wrongful incarceration, seizure of property and the disenfranchisement of 22,000 Japanese Canadians during the Second World War: As Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s said in the House of Commons, on September 22, 1988: “I know that I speak for Members on all sides of the House today in offering to Japanese Canadians the formal and sincere apology of this Parliament for those past injustices against them, against their families, and against their heritage, and our solemn commitment and undertaking to Canadians of every origin that such violations will never again in this country be countenanced or repeated.” Each of the 13,000 survivors of the camps were eligible for $21,000 compensation. Art Miki, of the National Association of Japanese Canadians, called the apology and $300 million compensation package “a settlement that heals.”

2. Aboriginals: On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on behalf of the Government of Canada, delivered a formal apology in the House of Commons to former students, their families, and communities for Canada's role in the operation of the residential schools. From 1870 until the 1970s, more than 150,000 aboriginal children were required to attend state-funded Christian schools as part of a program to strip them of their native culture and assimilate them into Canadian society. In the televised remarks Prime Minister Harper said: "We now recognize that it was wrong to separate children from rich and vibrant cultures and traditions, and that it created a void in many lives and communities and we apologize." The federal government also agreed to set aside a fund of $1.9 billion for about 80,000 survivors.
These are attempts to make things right and ought to be accepted as such. In other cases, little has been done to heal the wounds. There have been other genocides, including in China, the USSR, Cambodia, Rwanda and Sudan. Too many in the twentieth century alone.

The Young Turks

With that in mind, let's return to Turkey's diplomatic dispute with Israel. I am not sure if Israel has to issue a formal apology to Turkey. There might be mitigating circumstances surrounding the incident and I leave it to Israel to decide its own foreign policy. It's noteworthy that Turkey's demand of an apology from Israel fails to take a sober account of its own record of wrongdoing.

In 1915 Turkey massacred and displaced upwards of two million Armenians, the majority dying through forced death marches and starvation, in what some would call the twentieth century's first genocide. Tribal nationalism—through a ruling group called Young Turks— was at the heart of it. As the Genocide Education Project puts it:
The adult and teenage males were separated from the deportation caravans and killed under the direction of Young Turk functionaries. Women and children were driven for months over mountains and desert, often raped, tortured, and mutilated. Deprived of food and water and often stripped of clothing, they fell by the hundreds of thousands along the routes to the desert. Ultimately, more than half the Armenian population, 1,500,000 people were annihilated.
 As Wikipedia reports:
In 2005, the International Association of Genocide Scholars affirmed[5] that scholarly evidence revealed the "Young Turk government of the Ottoman Empire began a systematic genocide of its Armenian citizens – an unarmed Christian minority population. More than a million Armenians were exterminated through direct killing, starvation, torture, and forced death marches." 
There is also the United Nations Human Rights Council report here. And here is a letter that the IAGS sent to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (June 13, 2005). The evidence is unassailable, and one can be blind to its conclusions and findings only if one lacks an operating moral conscience and cares little about humanity. Many people, and not only Armenians, say that Turkey ought to make a formal apology and monetary restitution to the Armenian people.  That would be a step in the right direction. That would take courage, no doubt. That would take a statesman.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Miles Hoffman: Telemann Concerto for Viola

Miles Hoffman, viola, performs Georg Philipp Telemann's "Concerto in G Major" for Violin and String Orchestra: adante and presto, the last two of the four-movement concerto. The piece dates to between 1716 and 1721, says The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and was first published in 1731. It remained out of  print for two centuries. A late Baroque piece, this is the first known (surviving) concerto for viola, and is still regularly performed today. Miles Hoffman is the violist and artistic director of the American Chamber Players.


Telemann is considered a German Baroque composer of first rank and was a contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach and George Friedric Handel, although he might not be as famous or well known as them. Although he had positions in Leipzig and Frankfurt-am-main, it is the city of Hamburg, from which he remained from 1721 until his death in 1767, that he established his reputation. It is also during his tenure in Hamburg that his friendship with Handel matured, having met him when they were both young, in 1701.

Georg Philipp Telemann was born  to Heinrich Telemann and Maria Telemann (nee Haltmeier) in Magdeburg, Prussia (now Germany) on March 14, 1861. The city in which they resided was considered an European medieval centre of some prominence. Georg's family were mainly members of the Lutheran church and few were musicians. His father was a deacon of a church and his mother the daughter of a clergyman; the family was considered wealthy. Telemann received a good education and studied law briefly at Leipzig University in 1701.

Having tried to meet his family's obligations, albeit without success, he turned his attention to music, and the world is richer for it. Telemann was a prolific composer, with more than 3,000 pieces to his credit, and as one Baroque music site puts it:

As a composer Telemann was indeed prolific, providing an enormous body of work, both sacred and secular. This included 1,043 church cantatas, and settings of the Passion for each year that he was in Hamburg, 46 in all. In Leipzig he had written operas, and he continued to involve himself in public performances in Hamburg, later taking on additional responsibility as musical director of the Hamburg opera. He was also commercially active in publishing and selling much of the music that he wrote.

A musical form which Telemann practiced with remarkable assiduity was the orchestral suite—the Ouverture and its succession of dance movements, which originated with Lully in France, but which was in fact cultivated almost exclusively by German composers. A contemporary German critic, Johann Adolph Scheibe, even declared in 1745 that Telemann was chiefly responsible for the enormous popularity of the orchestral suite in Germany, having begun by imitating the French style but soon becoming more expert in it than the French themselves. In an autobiographical article written in 1740 Telemann estimated that he had already composed six hundred suites - about a quarter of which have survived, nearly all in manuscript. 

Georg Phillip Telemann [1681-1767]: In his later years, despite failing health, Telemann maintained his good humour, writing in 1762 on the pages of a musical score:"With an ink too thick, with foul pens, with bad sight, in gloomy weather, under a dim lamp I have composed these pages. Do not scold me for it!"
Artistic Credit: Engraving by Georg Lichtensteger, circa 1745.
Source: Wikipedia

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind

Gordon Lightfoot is a Canadian singer-songwriter born on November 17, 1938, in Orillia, Ontario. He has been performing and recording since the early 1960s. Although his appeal is international, his music heartfelt, his style is distinctly Canadian. (More biographical information can be found here.)

For Mr. Lightfoot, the song is a personal one, in this case about the moral failings of a individual, which is all too common and understandable. It's the human condition to fail, as it is the human condition to eventually triumph over the failure. What happens in between is the interesting part, the story or tale that bonds us humans together.

If You Could Read My Mind 
By Gordon Lightfoot

If you could read my mind, love,
What a tale my thoughts could tell.
Just like an old time movie,
'Bout a ghost from a wishing well.
In a castle dark or a fortress strong,
With chains upon my feet.
You know that ghost is me.
And I will never be set free
As long as I'm a ghost that you can't see. 
If I could read your mind, love,
What a tale your thoughts could tell.
Just like a paperback novel,
The kind the drugstores sell.
Then you reached the part where the heartaches come,
The hero would be me.
But heroes often fail,
And you won't read that book again
Because the ending's just too hard to take!
I'd walk away like a movie star
Who gets burned in a three way script.
Enter number two:
A movie queen to play the scene
Of bringing all the good things out in me.
But for now, love, let's be real;
I never thought I could  feel this way
And I've got to say that I just don't get it.
I don't know where we went wrong,
But the feeling's gone
And I just can't get it back. 
If you could read my mind, love,
What a tale my thoughts could tell.
Just like an old time movie,
'Bout a ghost from a wishing well.
In a castle dark or a fortress strong.
With chains upon my feet.
But stories always end,
And if you read between the lines,
You'd know that I'm just tryin' to understand
The feelin's that you lack.
I never thought I could feel this way
And I've got to say that I just don't get it.
I don't know where we went wrong,
But the feelin's gone
And I just can't get it back!

©1969 By Gordon Lightfoot

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ladino Lives by George Jochnowitz

Guest Voices

It has been often said that language is a living thing, and that its words and even meanings of words change over the course of history. Our Guest Voice today is Prof George Jochnowitz who gives us a look at a language, Ladino, that at one time seemed bound for extinction. But it is making a renaissance of sorts, Prof Jochnowitz writes: "The language is being taught in a number of places, including the major universities in Israel. Textbooks are available. The government of Israel has created a new organization, the National Authority of Ladino."

The word Ladino once had a different meaning. It was used for the language of translations of sacred texts from Hebrew. It is described as follows in the introduction to a Ladino-English English-Ladino dictionary:

Ladino is an archaic and artificial language which has been a vehicle [for] bringing the Bible, the prayers, and all the compositions which were more or less ritualistic to the ordinary Spanish-speaking Jew. Ladino renders a word by word juxtaposition of the Hebrew original with total disregard for Spanish syntax, the appearance and interpretation of phrases.[1]
The dictionary that includes this definition of Ladino is, surprisingly, a dictionary of the modern spoken language. The authors recognize that nowadays, when people say Ladino, they are probably not referring to an obsolete system of word-for-word translation but to the living speech of Jews whose ancestors left Spain in 1492.

Is it correct to describe the Sephardic Jews who fled to North Africa and the Ottoman Empire as "the ordinary Spanish-speaking Jew"? Did Jews in Spain before 1492 simply speak Spanish? Probably not. The word for "God," for example, was probably not Dios, as it is in Spanish, but el Dyo, which is used by Ladino speakers today. It has been suggested that Dios sounds like a plural noun, and Jews did not want to sound as if they were Christians who believed in the Trinity. One explanation for this form is that Jews said el Dyo; we must remember, however, the Hebrew word Elohim also sounds like a plural noun. It has also been suggested that we are simply dealing with the loss of the final consonant of the Spanish word. In addition to the word for "God," it is reasonable to expect that Jews in Spain, like Jews everywhere, had their own words to refer to religious practices."

David Bunis, a noted scholar, tells us that the language, which he calls Judezmo, antedates the expulsion from Spain: "Earliest Judezmo began to rise in Medieval Spain as a system of linguistic elements of Hispanic, Hebrew and Aramaic, (Jewish) Arabic and (Jewish) Greek origin."[2]

Quite a few names have been used for this language in addition to the names Ladino and Judezmo. Native speakers may call the language Judyo', Jidyo' (also spelled Djudyo' and Djidyo'), Spanyolit, or Spanyol. Scholars may say Judeo-Spanish. In North Africa, it is called Hakiti'a or Haketi'a. I will follow modern usage and say Ladino, recognizing that a change of meaning has taken place.

In certain ways, Ladino pronunciation reflects old forms that have long since disappeared from Spanish. The letters j and x in Spanish are pronounced with a voiceless velar fricative sound, like the ch in "Bach" and "Chanukah." There was a time when Spanish had a j sound, as in English judge. This still exists in the Ladino word for "Jew," which is Djudyo or Djidyo. There was also a zh sound, similar to the s in English "pleasure." We hear this in the Ladino words ojo and ajo, meaning "eye" and "garlic" respectively. Spanish used to have an sh sound, which survives in Ladino basho, meaning "low."

It would be inaccurate to say that Spanish has changed and Ladino has not. Both have changed, but the changes were different. All languages change. Nevertheless, the phonetic system of Ladino does indeed preserve sounds that are no longer found in Spanish.

An interesting fact about Jewish languages, including Ladino, is that words about things that are somewhat unpleasant come from Hebrew or Aramaic. An examination of the words for "fear" in Jewish languages illustrates this fact. People always have feared fear itself, whether or not they said so in so many words. In Yiddish, moyre is the everyday word for "fear." In Judeo-Italian we find a different Hebrew word, paxad (The x is pronounced like the ch in Chanukah or Bach). That's not all. Judeo-Italian includes paxadoso meaning "timid" and impaxadito meaning "frightened." So we shouldn't be at all surprised to learn that in addition to the Ladino word espanto meaning "fear," paxad also exists in Ladino. [3] Furthermore, ema lemilxama, involving still another Hebrew word, means "fear of war." [4]

Grief is an unpleasant subject, and in addition to bivda meaning "widow" and bivdo meaning "widower," we find almana for "widow" and almon for "widower."[5] Yiddish has parallel words, almone and almen. Oddly, in Voltaire's short story "Zadig," a woman described as a young widow is named Almona, suggesting that Voltaire knew the word and had heard an Ashkenazic pronunciation. The title character of the story, Zadig himself, is described as a righteous man, suggesting Hebrew or Yiddish tsadik. I don't know why Voltaire chose Hebrew words for these names.

Is 'thief' a taboo word? Robbery is certainly a taboo activity and an unpleasant side of life. Just as Yiddish has ganef and ganvenen, meaning "thief" and "to steal" respectively, Judezmo has ganav (Bunis item 894) and ganavear.[6] Most native speakers, however, use words that come from Spanish: ladron and rovar. The names of certain body parts are typically taboo. Where Yiddish has tokhes, Ladino a word of Spanish origin, kulo, although there has also been a report of taxad[7], which comes from a Hebrew word meaning "under."

A century ago, the city of Salonika (Thessaloniki) had a Ladino-speaking plurality. Ladino was widely spoken in what is now Greece, Turkey, Serbia, Bosnia, and Bulgaria. This is no longer the case. Hitler destroyed the Jews of Greece and the former Yugoslavia. But even in Bulgaria, where most Jews survived World War II, and in Turkey, which was a neutral country during the war and was never occupied by the Nazis, Ladino has few speakers.

In the days of the Ottoman Empire, many nationalities speaking their own languages existed under the millet system, which gave autonomy to various minorities. When the empire was replaced by independent states, each new country had its own language, and everyone was expected to know it. That contributed to the decline of Ladino. But long before the fall of the Ottoman Empire, a different force was at work. The Alliance israėlite universelle, an organization founded in France in 1860, was concerned with helping Jews everywhere. What better way to help them than to establish schools where French was taught? Today, we may disagree, but the Alliance was remarkably successful. French began to replace Ladino in various communities.

Daisy Sadaka Braverman, who teaches Ladino at the University of Pennsylvania, has spoken to me about generational differences among Turkish Jews. Her maternal grandmother, who was married in 1907, generally spoke Ladino. She knew some Greek; her Turkish, on the other hand, was horrible, as was generally the case for women of her generation. Ms. Sadaka Braverman's mother, on the other hand, often spoke French and identified as a French speaker, even though she spoke Ladino to her sisters. She had expressed a certain ambivalence about Ladino, saying, "It's not that it's low class; I think it's old fashioned." As for Ms. Sadaka Braverman herself, she is fluent in Turkish as well as in Ladino and French--and English.

In Turkey, there is a certain amount of inconsistency. A woman spoke French to her daughter and Ladino to her son. Ms. Sadaka Braverman's paternal grandmother, who lived in Istanbul, knew French well. Jews in Istanbul are more likely to use French than Jews in Izmir.

Perhaps the rise of French and the awkwardness some people felt about Ladino happened because French was recognized as a language of culture. In 1981, I wrote in these pages that the future of Ladino as a spoken language was in doubt.[8] Today, things are changing. The language is being taught in a number of places, including the major universities in Israel. Textbooks are available. The government of Israel has created a new organization, the National Authority of Ladino. There was a time when Israelis felt insecure about the establishment of Hebrew and discouraged the use of languages like Ladino and Yiddish, but that is no longer an issue. Ladino, like other Jewish languages, is now respected and studied by scholars in a number of countries, who may communicate with each other via the internet, for example, at There are still no young native speakers of Ladino; nevertheless, Ladino lives.

[1] Elie Kohen and Dahlia Kohen-Gordon, Ladino-English English-Ladino Concise Encyclopedic Dictionary (JudeoSpanish), New York, Hippocrene, 2000, p.1
[2]David M. Bunis, A Lexicon of the Hebrew and Aramaic Elements in Modern Judezmo (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1993), p. 15.
[3] Ibid., Item 3285.
[4]Ibid., Item 158
[5] Ibid., Items 204 and 205.
[6] Item 894.
[7] Ibid., Item 4042.
[8] George Jochnowitz, "Ladino," Midstream XXVII, #2 (1981), p. 32.

George Jochnowitz was born in New York City, in 1937.  He became aware of different regional pronunciations when he was six, and he could consciously switch accents as a child. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics from Columbia University and taught linguistics at the College of Staten Island, CUNY.  His area of specialization was Jewish languages, in particular, Judeo-Italian dialects.  As part of a faculty-exchange agreement with Hebei University in Baoding, China, he was in China during the Tiananmen Massacre. He can be reached at
Copyright ©2011. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. An earlier version of this essay appeared in the July-August 2003 issue of Midstream. This post can be found on George Jochnowitz. It is republished here with the author's permission.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Neil Young: Harvest Moon

Harvest Moon (1992)
Via: Youtube

There has been a full Harvest Moon the last couple of nights in the northern hemisphere, says
For the past couple nights the moon has been well positioned in the sky as it heads into the full moon Sunday night (Sept. 11), with the peak coming on Monday (Sept. 12) at 5:27 a.m. EDT (0927 GMT).

Traditionally, the designation "Harvest Moon" is given to the full moon that happens closest to the autumnal (or fall) equinox, which occurs on Sept. 23 this year. While the Harvest Moon typically occurs in September in the Northern Hemisphere, it can occur in early October about once or twice each decade, according to Rao. [Infographic: Phases of the Moon Explained]

Skywatchers and amateur astronomers should hope for clear skies that will offer them nice views of the Harvest Moon. But, in addition to marveling at the bright sight, many detailed features on the moon can be seen with the ordinary binoculars or small telescopes.
You can find more information here. Before the invention of electricity, farmers looked to the Harvest Moon to give some more time to pull in their crops. And for lovers and imaginative persons the moon has had a romantic charm, as this Neil Young song confirms.

Harvest Moon
By Neil Diamond

Come a little bit closer
Hear what I have to say
Just like children sleepin'
We could dream this night away.

But there's a full moon risin'
Let's go dancin' in the light
We know where the music's playin'
Let's go out and feel the night.

Because I'm still in love with you
I want to see you dance again
Because I'm still in love with you
On this harvest moon.

When we were strangers
I watched you from afar
When we were lovers
I loved you with all my heart.

But now it's gettin' late
And the moon is climbin' high
I want to celebrate
See it shinin' in your eye.

Because I'm still in love with you
I want to see you dance again
Because I'm still in love with you
On this harvest moon.

Hatikva ("The Hope") by Rita

Here Rita, her stage name,  sings Hatikva ("The Hope"), the national anthem of Israel. The anthem is performed at Pa'amoney Hayovel (Jubilee Bells), Hebrew University Stadium, Jerusalem, Israel, Thursday, April 30, 1998. Rita was born Rita Yahan-Farouz in Tehran, Iran, and she emigrated to Israel with her family in 1970, as a young girl.

Lyrics by: Naftali Hertz Imber
Music by:  Samuel Cohen

The text of Hatikva is based on a nine-stanza poem, Tikvatenu ("Our Hope"), which Naftali Hertz Imber (1856-1909) wrote after emigrating to Palestine from Ukraine (then part of Galicia) in 1882. There are various versions of the poem, but most sources agree that the anthem is based on the version he published in Jerusalem between 1884 and 1886.

Imber left Palestine, wandering around a bit, and eventually settled in America in 1892, had a difficult time making a living as a poet and writer, was married briefly and died in penury in 1909. Almost forgotten save for his lyrics.

The melody has a longer more complex history, borrowing from various sources. Samuel Cohen, originally from Moldova, came up with the melody around 1888, which he said was adapted from a Romanian folk song, “Cucuruz cu frunza-n sus” (“Maize with up-standing leafs”). That song was itself likely adapted from La Mantovana," a 17th-century Italian song, originally written by Giuseppino del Biado around 1600. (If you listen to "La Mantovana," you can hear echoes of Hatikva.)

The song was banned briefly by the British under the Palestine Mandate in 1919. While the song has been sung at least since the State of Israel was founded in 1948, Hatikva only became the official national anthem in 2004. The anthem only incorporates the first verse and the refrain from the original Imber poem. The song is mostly in the minor key, hence its mournful quality, yet the song speaks about hope—the hope of being a free people, and may I add (eventually) living in peace among its neighbours.


Hebrew lyrics

כֹּל עוֹד בַּלֵּבָב פְּנִימָה
נֶפֶשׁ יְהוּדִי הוֹמִיָּה
וּלְפַאֲתֵי מִזְרָח, קָדִימָה
עַיִן לְצִיּוֹן צוֹפִיָּה

עוֹד לֹא אָבְדָה תִּקְוָתֵנוּ
הַתִּקְוָה בַּת שְׁנוֹת אַלְפַּיִם
לִהְיוֹת עַם חָפְשִׁי בְּאַרְצֵנוּ
אֶרֶץ צִיּוֹן וִירוּשָׁלַיִם


Kol od balevav penima
Nefesh Yehudi homiya,
Ulfa'atei mizrach kadima
Ayin l'Tziyon tzofiya.

Od lo avda tikvatenu,
Hatikva bat sh'not alpayim,
Lihyot am chofshi be'artzenu
Eretz Tziyon virushalayim.

English translation

As long as deep within the heart
A Jewish soul stirs,
And forward, to the ends of the East
An eye looks out, towards Zion.

Our hope is not yet lost,
The hope of two thousand years,
To be a free people in our land
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Jan Peerce: Passover Scene From Halévy's La Juive

La Juive (The Jewess) by Fromental Halévy: From Act 2: Inside the house of Éléazar during a Passover seder. Jan Peerce (1904-1984) was a Jewish-America tenor from New York City.

The synopsis of the opera can be found here, and some background notes on the opera can be found here. Mr. Halévy's opera is as much about religious tolerance as it is about liberal democratic values. It is fitting to hear this passage today, since Passover is also called the Festival of Freedom, and political freedom and pluralism are both hallmarks of democracy.

Bruce Springsteen: This Land Is Your Land

Live at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA, on September 30, 1985 as part of the "Born in the USA" tour. Woody Gutherie wrote the lyrics to "This Land is Your Land," in 1940, to an existing melody, doing so as a response to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." The U.S. Library of Congress added it, in 2002, to the National Recording Registry.

When I was much younger, so much younger than today, in my early 20s, I saw Bruce Springsteen at a concert in Montreal that lasted almost three hours. Springteen gives his all to the fans and you get your money's worth. He is also a performer with a social conscience, using his fame to speak out on issues that are important to average Americans, his home base.

Now, I am a Canadian, not an American, but I have always enjoyed Springsteen's music, since it has always offered, despite its sometimes grim message, hope and dreams. His personal story fits that tradition of making it in America despite the odds against it.

In this clip, from 1985, Springsteen speaks about jobs and the lack of them. Jobs and employment are always an important issue, as it ought to be. One of the fundamental roles of the government is to ensure that people are working citizens and paying their fair share of taxes. President Obama made a speech on the American Job Act, a package worth nearly $450 billion, a  a few days ago before a joint-session of Congress. Let's hope that it gets more people back to work, which would help heal the wounds of a deeply divided nation

That would be a moral victory of sorts, on the tenth the anniversary of the tragic event of September 11th, when many lost their lives, needlessly may I add, to an act of terrorism. And the United States has not been the same, or for that matter Canada, England, France, Germany and the rest of the world. We are still seeing the effects of  that day, sometimes in subtle forms.

The attack was not only a direct assault against America in particular but against liberal democracy, freedom and humanity in general. There can be no moral justification for the heartless cold-blooded attack. Only individuals imbued with a totalitarian anti-human worldview would find ways, language, to justify murder. The vast majority of us can't.  It's a form of sophistry intended to deceive. Ideologies that operate on redemption through revolution or murder as a necessary means to gain reward for a better life in another world (after-life) are contrary to the ideals of democracy, individual liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Today and in the next week, many stories, articles and tributes will be written and published in various forms—some eloquent, some hard, some ideological, some poetic.  What I take way from the events of ten years ago is the importance and value of democracy, freedom, individual dignity and applying the laws of the land equally to all persons. It's true that I worry about democracy in America, albeit less so today than a few years ago, and I have written as much in this medium.

Even so, I worry because I consider myself a friend of America and democracy is by nature a fragile institution. If we wish to maintain these values, we have to fight so to speak to ensure that they are maintained. The fight is equally important in words and actions, namely, that we live by the values of liberal democracy. Otherwise, the words lose their luster, their meaning, and we are all poorer for it.

We must not act in opposition to the values that we cherish. As Mr. Springsteen said in plain words, "Countries like people—it's easy to let the best of you slip away."

This Land is Your Land 
By Woody Gutherie
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.
As I went walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me.
I roamed and I rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
While all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me.
When the sun came shining, and I was strolling
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
A voice was chanting, As the fog was lifting,
This land was made for you and me.

In the squares of the city,
In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I'd seen my people.
As they stood there hungry,
I stood there asking,Is this land made for you and me?
Chorus: This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.
There are also many other national versions of the song, including a Canadian one made popularized by Canadian folk music group The Travellers in 1955:
This land is your land, This land is my land,
From Bonavista, to Vancouver Island
From the Arctic Circle to the Great Lakes waters,
This land was made for you and me.
I roamed and I rambled,
And I followed my footsteps
To the fir-clad forests
Of our mighty mountains
And all around me
A voice was calling,
This land was made for you and me.
I remember singing it in elementary (or primary) school in the 1960s in different times, when I was a young boy. Idealistic. Hopeful. I remain cautiously hopeful. The melody has always stuck in my head.