About this Recording
8.559412 - DIAMOND: Ahava / Music for Prayer
English 

David Diamond (1915-2005): Ahava
David Diamond •Morton Gould • Ray Harris • Douglas Moore: Music for Prayer

 

About the Composers

For more than five decades David Leo Diamond (1915-2005) had figured prominently among mainstream American composers. Born in Rochester, New York, to Yiddish-speaking immigrant parents from the area around Lemberg, Galicia (now Ukraine ), he received a typical Jewish religious education in the local afternoon Hebrew school. At the age of seven he displayed musical gifts on the violin, which he learned to play initially on his own, and he began composing small pieces while still a child — also without formal instruction. There followed violin lessons at public grammar school and, briefly, while his family was in temporary residence in Cleveland, Ohio, during the 1920s, some studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Later, he was awarded a scholarship at the Eastman School of Music, in Rochester, where he studied with Bernard Rogers. The premiere of his first orchestral work, a one-movement symphony, was conducted by Eastman's resident composer and composition department chairman, Howard Hanson.

As a student in Rochester, Diamond was fascinated by the cantorial art he heard in the local synagogue and at concerts given by visiting cantorial celebrities — especially, as he could still recall more than seven decades later, the famous Yossele Rosenblatt (1882–1933). Diamond also developed an intellectual interest in Jewish music history, acquainting himself with much of the available literature. During his studies with Rogers, he began writing short pieces that incorporated Jewish themes and modes.

Before completing the course at Eastman, however, Diamond left for New York City, where he became a pupil of Roger Sessions and studied at the Dalcroze Institute. Sessions, like Rogers, had been a student of Ernest Bloch, and Diamond always felt that this provided him an indirect yet significant influence of that acknowledged 20th century master.

Shortly after arriving in New York, Diamond introduced himself to Lazare Saminsky (1882–1959), then the music director at Temple Emanu-El, the city's flagship Reform congregation. Saminsky, an established and respected composer in the general music world who was also one of the major personalities on the American Jewish music scene, took an interest in the young composer's gifts and became something of a patron. He invited Diamond to write various liturgical settings for Emanu-El's services, and Diamond continued on his own to add to that repertoire. Saminsky's encouragement proved significant on several levels: "It was really Mr. Saminsky who got me writing more and more", Diamond later acknowledged. In those initial New York years Saminsky also introduced him to the highly regarded and well-established American-born composer, the first composition professor at The Juilliard School, Frederick Jacobi (1891–1952), who, like Diamond, included Judaically related works among his overall opera. Jacobi quietly organized some private financial assistance for Diamond to help him continue his studies and pursue his artistic goals.

Critics and commentators have observed in Diamond's early style the distinct influence of both Eric Satie and Ravel. He has continued throughout his life to admire Ravel's music as "the most perfect, the most imaginative, and the most moving contemporary music." Diamond's reliance on traditional structures and contrapuntal techniques was refined during his work with Sessions. One of his first successful works to emerge from that period was Sinfonietta (1935), inspired by Carl Sandburg's poem "Good Morning America". It was awarded the Elfrida Whiteman scholarship (for which George Gershwin was one of the judges) and was premiered in 1936 by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Paul Whiteman. That same year, a commission for a ballet score for Léonide Massine (which, in the end, did not materialize as a ballet) brought Diamond to Paris, where he fraternized with a circle of composers, writers, and other artists that included Ravel, Milhaud, Joyce, Gide, as well as Roussel, to whom he dedicated his Concerto for String Quartet (1936). Following the premiere of his first violin concerto, in 1937, Diamond returned to Paris to study — as did many young aspiring American and other composers — with the legendary Nadia Boulanger. Soon afterward his Psalm for Orchestra (dedicated to Gide), for which he acknowledged Stravinsky's musical advice, was premiered in San Francisco under Pierre Monteaux's baton and received the Juilliard Publication Award. After a one-year return to New York, a Guggenheim Fellowship enabled him to go back to Paris for a second round of studies with Boulanger, and he remained there until 1939. That period saw the composition of Elegy in Memory of Maurice Ravel (who had died in 1937); Heroic Piece and Concert Piece, both for orchestra; and a cello concerto. Two symphonies followed his return to the United States after the commencement of the Second World War. The first was premiered by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos, and the second, subtitled "A War Symphony", was first performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Koussevitzky in 1944.

During the mid- and late 1940s, Diamond often supported himself at least partly by playing violin in live radio-station and theater-pit orchestras. During that period he wrote Rounds, for string orchestra, on commission from Mitropoulos, which won the New York Critics Circles Award and which remains one of his most popular works. He also wrote two further symphonies (no. 4 was premiered by a young Koussevitzky protégé, Leonard Bernstein); a piano concerto; and a second violin concerto. In general, beginning with Rounds, these postwar works exhibit a move toward a more relaxed diatonic-modal approach. During the same time frame he also wrote incidental music for theatrical productions: Shakespeare's The Tempest (1944) and Romeo and Juliet (1950), and Tennessee Williams's The Rose Tattoo (1951).

In 1951 Diamond spent a year at the University of Rome as a Fulbright professor and then lived in Florence until 1965. His music of those years in Italy became increasingly chromatic, reflective of contemporaneous developments, but he never employed, nor did he embrace, atonality. In fact, Diamond adheres to the view that "atonal" is a misnomer as it is generally applied, since unavoidable tonal poles render truly atonal music impossible. His own fleshed-out brand of chromaticism during the 1950s is well exemplified in The World of Paul Klee (1957), a series of musical reflections of Klee's paintings.

The frenzy of interest in both electronic and aleatoric music that swept up so many composers during the 1960s and 1970s held little or no attraction for Diamond. He continued freely to pursue, refine, and expand his own chromatic and contrapuntal techniques fully within 20th century harmonic and stylistic contexts, but he could not relate to the notion of chance elements in his work. "The aleatoric business is simply not music!" he once said. In some perceptions, this attitude landed Diamond somewhere on the moderate-to-conservative side of the compositional spectrum of those decades, and certainly not on the avant-garde wing.

Diamond returned permanently to the United States in 1965. Celebrations of his fiftieth birthday that year included the premiere of his fifth symphony by the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Bernstein. Others of his symphonies (numbering eleven in all) have received premiere performances by conductors Charles Munch, Eugene Ormandy, Kurt Masur, and Gerard Schwarz. And No. 11 (1991) was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic in celebration of its 150th anniversary. His body of work also includes seven string quartets, as well as much vocal music — reflecting his lifelong interest in poetry and dramatic literature. Among Diamond's best-known vocal works are To Music (1967), a choral symphony on texts by John Masefield and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; and The Sacred Ground, commemorating Lincoln 's Gettysburg Address on its centenary. His dramatic scores include Mirandolina (1958), a musical comedy based on Goldoni's La Locandiera ; and a folk play, The Golden Slippers (1965). Following a commission from the National Opera Institute in 1971, Diamond wrote The Noblest Game, to an original libretto by Katie Loucheim, for New York City Opera. An unusual story, the scenario concerns the intrigues of powerful government figures in Washington following "a recent war" (with unspecified parallels to Vietnam ). The opera was completed in 1975 but abandoned by City Opera.

Interested in guiding young composers and perpetuating a continuum of American music, Diamond has always reserved time for teaching. In the mid-1960s he taught at Manhattan School of Music, in New York, and in the early 1970s he was a visiting professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. From 1973 until 1986 he was a professor of composition at The Juilliard School, and he continued teaching after his retirement, until 1997.

Diamond's many honors and awards have included the William Shuman Lifetime Achievement Award (1986), the Gold Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1991), and the Edward MacDowell Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement. In 1995 he was presented with the National Medal of Arts at the White House.

Diamond's personal artistic credo was encapsulated in a 1964 article in The Music Journal, which cited a statement from his diary: "Technical proficiency or skill in composition can never replace imagination or fantasy; yet, imagination run rampant can destroy musical values and reduce them to the level of exhibitionist and narcissistic futilities." Controlled imagination has remained nonetheless one of his chief criteria and has permeated all his efforts. "Without imagination," he has been quoted as asserting, "[the music] will only be notes on paper."

 

Composer, conductor, and arts administrator MORTON GOULD (1913–96) was born in Richmond Hill, New York. When he was eight years old, he won a scholarship to the Institute of Musical Art (since 1923 The Juilliard School), and he published his first piece at age fifteen.

In 1934, Gould, a staff pianist at Radio City Music Hall since its opening in 1932, became music director of a weekly New York radio program, which involved composing, arranging, and conducting. While writing specifically for broadcast — which often included what was then called a "light classical" approach and was governed by timing limitations — he also composed more substantial works that integrated popular American styles, flavors, and idioms.

Gould wrote music for two Broadway shows, Billion Dollar Baby (1945) and Arms and the Girl (1950), a ballet score, Fall River Legend (choreographed by Agnes De Mille), and a number of film scores — appearing himself in the 1945 film Delightfully Dangerous. And he continued creating orchestral works informed by American themes and vernacular styles, such as American Salute (1947), a symphonic treatment of the famous song from the War Between the States, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home". His later works include a flute concerto (1985), Notes of Remembrance (1989), and the piece that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1995, Stringmusic, written for Mstislav Rostropovich's final season as conductor of the National Symphony in Washington, D.C.

Gould served on the governing board of ASCAP for more than thirty-six years and as president from 1986 until 1994. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and awarded a Kennedy Center Honor. His assimilation of popular American idioms and entertainment forms and styles into concert works ranged from conventional but inventive orchestral versions of existing themes to more flamboyant experiments, such as the 1952 Concerto for Tap Dancer and Orchestra or, forty years later, a work for rapper and orchestra, The Jogger and the Dinosaur, written for the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony.

 

Roy Harris (1898–1979), who grew up in the San Gabriel Valley in California, began composing at the University of California at Berkeley, after which he studied privately in Los Angeles with American composer Arthur Farwell (1872–1952), an enthusiast for American Indian culture who attempted to emancipate modern American music from the strictures — as he perceived them — of the European tradition. Farwell also introduced Harris to the poetry of Walt Whitman, which Harris embraced and later set many times in various genres — solo songs, choral pieces, and orchestral works. But his studies in Paris with the legendary Nadia Boulanger generated his first significant works: a piano concerto, a piano sonata, and a clarinet and string quartet.

After his return to California, Harris's music became more polyphonic. In 1933, his first symphony — in response to an appeal by conductor and champion of new American music Serge Koussevitzky for a "great symphony from the [American] west" — brought Harris to national attention, and Koussevitzky commissioned him to write two subsequent symphonies. The single-movement third symphony (1937) became Harris's most popular and frequently performed work.

Harris wrote fifteen symphonies, sometimes calling for a variety of instrumental forces beyond the standard symphonic instrumentation — such as West Point Symphony (1952), which includes a band. Other symphonies have programmatic titles as well: Gettysburg, San Francisco, and, for his last work, the Bicentennial Symphony (1975–76), written as a tribute to America 's 200th birthday. Harris forged an American idiom by combining folksong melodies and modalities with European contrapuntal techniques. His open textures and often easygoing quality have been described as evocative of broad American landscapes and "the expanse of the western plains". "It [his music] has the energy of a young country looking into the future rather than living in past glories", observed the venerable commentator Milton Cross (best remembered for his hosting of the Saturday afternoon Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts). "It has American optimism, enthusiasm and zest."

Harris's association with folksong collectors and singers such as John and Alan Lomax and Woody Guthrie resulted in a number of works based on American folk traditions. His choral oeuvre includes a dramatic chamber work, Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight (1953), based on the poem by Vachel Lindsay, and several religious works, including a Mass setting for men's voices (1947).

Harris was a professor and composer-in-residence at U.C.L.A. throughout the 1960s, and he taught at California State University, Los Angeles, from 1970 until three years before his death.

 

Douglas Moore (1893–1969) is best known for his most successful opera, The Ballad of Baby Doe. Inspired by actual events that occurred in 19th century Colorado, that opera launched the operatic career of American soprano Beverly Sills. Moore was already in his sixties when he wrote Baby Doe, but for three decades he had played a significant role in American musical life. And he served on the music faculty at Columbia University beginning in 1926, and as chairman of the music department from 1940 until 1962.

Moore, born in a Long Island suburb of New York, studied composition at Yale University with Horatio Parker, the founder of Yale's music department and an American operatic composer in his own right. After graduation, Moore served as a lieutenant in the United States Navy, an experience that provided him new material sources for, and insights into, popular songwriting — an area that had already sparked his interest during his years at Yale. This new parameter manifested itself in a collection of wryly humorous pieces, The Songs My Mother Never Taught Me (1921), written in collaboration with folksinger John Jacob Niles.

In 1919 Moore went to Paris to study with two disciples of the celebrated Belgian composer César Franck: Vincent d'Indy for composition, and the mystic Charles Tournemire for organ. On his return to the United States he studied for a while with Ernest Bloch, and then returned to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger. But he remained more interested in Americana, popular operetta styles, and dance tunes than in cultivated contemporary musical developments. That tendency found its echo in works such as his orchestral suite The Pageant of P. T. Barnum (1924) and the symphonic poem Moby Dick (1928).

Moore was drawn to theater — first with incidental music and then moving to stage works. Together with Stephen Vincent Binet, he wrote a school operetta, The Headless Horseman (1936), based on Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow ; and a folk opera, The Devil and Daniel Webster (1938), which Stravinsky is said to have studied while composing The Rake's Progress. After the Second World War, Moore moved toward more ambitious full-scale operatic projects with the tragic Giants in the Earth (1951), on a story by Ole Edvart Rolvaag, set among Norwegian immigrants in the Dakota Territory — a work that won a Pulitzer Prize. Both with Giants and Baby Doe, Moore gained a reputation as a musical chronicler of the recent American past.

Neil W. Levin

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Program Notes

 

David Diamond: AHAVA — Brotherhood

In 1954, with much fanfare, the United States celebrated the 300th anniversary of the birth of American Jewry and the beginnings of an American Jewish community.

It is now generally presumed that prior to the second half of the 17th century, a small handful of European Jews came individually, probably for economic prospects, to North America. If so, they returned to Europe, eventually tried their luck elsewhere, or assimilated completely into the wider population of settlers. But they did not found any community, nor probably were they concerned with maintaining Jewish identity. The actual birth of the American Jewish community dates to 1654, when a group of twenty-three self-affirming Jews (the precise number has been questioned by recent research) arrived in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, then under the control of the Dutch West India Company. Those Jews had been living in Recife (Pernambuco), Brazil, which the Dutch had wrested from the Portuguese in 1630 and where a formal Jewish community had been established (approximately 1,400–1,500 strong, at its height) on European models. When the Dutch surrendered Recife back to the Portuguese in 1654 and the specter of the Inquisition hovered, most of the remaining Jews — their number having already dwindled to less than half, as many had grown disenchanted with a deteriorating economy during the final years of Dutch rule — left rather than convert. Many who could afford to do so returned to Amsterdam ; others resettled in Caribbean areas. The above-mentioned group of twenty-three refugees also headed, initially, for the Caribbean, but their landing was thwarted by the Spanish. We do not know if their final destination was eventually Holland, but when they were in effect stranded in New Amsterdam, virtually indigent and also unwelcome, they elected to stay permanently. This was made possible only by some friendly economic influence and pressure on their behalf, exerted on the Dutch West India Company by fellow Jews in Amsterdam. Within a year these settlers were joined by five Jewish families from Amsterdam who were dispatched to the colony in order to help root the newly planted Jewish foundations. There followed continued immigrations of Jews from Amsterdam, as well as from Dutch possessions in the New World and, later, from London. Thus the original twenty-three refugees are credited as the seeds of American Jewry — even though by the time England took control of the colony from the Dutch and it became New York, most of them had left. And even though there was a hiatus of Jewish settlement and community development for the first several years of British rule — so that the community was in a sense "refounded" in 1670 — the date of 1654 has been accepted ever since as the birth year.

Thus the 1954 tercentenary was viewed by American Jewish leadership, in the words of the national committee that planned and implemented the celebration, as "an important milestone … a kind of spiritual birthday party for the Jews of America". In a way, it turned out to be a spiritual celebration of America and American ideals as well, with the Jewish anniversary as the catalyst.

As early as 1948, the concept of a multifaceted, multi-event, and cross-country national celebration was first proposed to the American Jewish Historical Society by Rabbi David de Sola Pool, the minister and leader of America's first and oldest Jewish congregation, Shearith Israel in New York. All national Jewish organizations were invited to participate in the planning, which led eventually to the formation and incorporation of a consortium known as the American Jewish Tercentenary Committee — with a national committee of 300 members and local committees in more than 400 communities. The series of events was designed to last 300 days and was launched officially in September 1954 (the month in 1654 when the twenty-three refugees arrived) with a reconsecration service at Shearith Israel that included a promenade of rabbis from various parts of the United States and a procession of fourteen Torah scrolls. It was broadcast over the ABC television network. The climax of the series was a dinner, where the speaker was President Dwight Eisenhower, and the conclusion occurred in June 1955, with a public assemblage at New York 's Carnegie Hall. During that period of nearly nine months, in scores of cities across the country, there were concerts, pageants, seminars, special religious services (Jewish as well as interfaith), banquets, exhibitions, publications, and radio and television broadcasts.

As a major part of the celebration, the Tercentenary Committee commissioned David Diamond to compose an orchestral work, leaving further detail to his discretion. It was to have two performances, by two orchestras, during the tercentenary period. "I suddenly realized that I didn't want to write merely an orchestral piece," Diamond recalled nearly a half century later:

I wanted a work with narration. So I got the idea for a kind of "spokesman". And I thought, Hillel would be the man! Jeremiah, too. So I began reviewing biblical texts, and sayings of the great sage, Hillel; and other sources. And then I wrote my own text around these. So it's really a work for narrator and orchestra.

Other sources for his script were Solomon Grayzel's A History of the Jews, The Union Prayerbook for Jewish Worship, various historical documents, and poetry by Moses Ibn Ezra and Yehuda Halevi.

The title Diamond gave his work, AHAVA — Brotherhood, reflected "the big thing that I still believe should happen in this difficult world of ours. So, the whole text is arranged around that concept". For Diamond, the deeper connotations and ramifications of the tercentenary centered around that theme.

Indeed, the overall nine-month celebration was envisioned by its architects along general and universal rather than particular or parochial lines. The central theme was articulated officially as "Man's opportunities and responsibilities under freedom". The intended focus was thus upon American democratic ideals and the achievements and contributions of American Jews within and as a result of the opportunities afforded by those ideals. The emphasis was not to be on Jewish accomplishments in a Judaic context, but upon the contributions to American culture made by American Jews. On an even wider plane, the celebration was seen outside specifically Jewish circles — and among governmental bodies and leaders — as a reaffirmation of what were perceived as manifestly American social, political, and even spiritual values. The Rhode Island General Assembly, for example, passed a resolution hailing the occasion as a "unique opportunity for Americans to strengthen their understanding of the American tradition of harmony among all citizens". Jewish leadership, too, recognized the wider purposes of the endeavor, as the national Tercentenary Committee chairman asserted that "in giving voice to the meaning of three centuries of constructive Jewish participation in the building of our American democracy, we shall be showing the strength and vitality of the ideals which all Americans hold in common". Leaders of major Christian faiths and denominations expressed enthusiasm for the observance as well. The chairman of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, who was also the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cincinnati, thought it "altogether appropriate that the event, so historic and significant, be noted not only by Jewish people, but by the citizenry of the country generally". And the president of the thirty-denomination National Council of Churches noted that "nothing could be more appropriate in the observance than a careful enquiry into man's opportunities and responsibilities under freedom. All true Americans will desire to cooperate."

Diamond's narration script clearly reflects that overall approach to the tercentenary and the broad liberal interpretation of its contemporary significance. The text is not so much about the 17th century historical incident, or even about that first group of immigrants per se, as it is about much-later utopian sentiments of universal brotherhood and much more recent ideas of political and social rights in society. Threading that text together, the 1654 landing becomes an emotional more than a historical anchor — a literary and dramatic departure point used as a quasi-refrain.

The text of AHAVA might even be considered a "period piece". Some of its historical as well as stylistic aspects are, admittedly, problematic when measured by late-20th and early-21st century yardsticks. Characteristic of patriotic postwar and mid-century treatments of such subjects, literary license and wishful sentiments sometimes overrule historical reality, and 20th century sensibilities can seem superimposed on earlier generations. The twenty-three Jewish refugees in 1654 did not, of course, come to New Amsterdam because they had heard about such modern concerns and rallying cries as equality, racial freedom, or "equal rights"; nor could they have anticipated with futuristic dreams such late-18th century propositions as "a universal brotherhood of man", which in any case would not have been relevant to their lives. They did not "flee" Recife to "escape misery and suffering" (with few exceptions until at least the late 1930s, the popular but degrading image of "fleeing" is largely fictitious vis-à-vis Jewish immigration); nor did they pray to be brought to New Amsterdam. They simply chose to leave Brazil rather than convert to Christianity — but they left under the physical protection of the Portuguese commander there, who assisted them in securing ships and who issued severe warnings against any harm being done to the departing Jews. They ended up in New Amsterdam because they had no further means to pay for passage to Amsterdam, where, in any case, the Jewish community was not eager to have thrust upon them the financial burden of yet another group of indigent refugees. Once the settlers were allowed to remain in New Amsterdam, after initial orders to vacate, they were not offered a chance to "live their own thoughts without fear". The Dutch colony was a commercial and mercantile enterprise, not an ideological one. Even after the order preventing even private Jewish worship services was reversed following pressure from Amsterdam, for a good while they could hold religious services only inconspicuously in their homes or later in an unmarked mill loft. It was another seventy-five years before a synagogue could officially and publicly be opened and consecrated. Meanwhile, they were still subject to numerous other restrictions. Some of these restrictions were lifted gradually, though authorities also sometimes looked the other way when it suited some mutually beneficial purpose. But at that time and for a long time to come, Colonial Jews did not aspire to full political equality, but only to free and competitive economic opportunity — which they achieved long before political enfranchisement.

Obviously many of the references in Diamond's text are to later 19th and 20th century immigrations, although here too there is the typical uncritical and romantic idealization that was current in the 1950s. We now recognize that, for the most part — until the 1930s — the various waves of Jewish immigration comprised the least economically advantaged, the least prosperous, and the least educated elements of European Jewry. They came in search of economic opportunity and betterment, not universal brotherhood. Until the Nazi party period in Germany and Austria and the Second World War, it was mostly succeeding generations of Jewish immigrants who made substantial contributions to American intellectual and scientific culture; and true Jewish political participation on the national level did not really begin until the Roosevelt administration.

Compared with Europe as a whole, America did not have a monopoly on virtue as a welcome mat for immigrants. Its openness to large-scale immigration (not only concerning Jews), until it was later thwarted, was understandably owing to economic interests and considerations, not magnanimity. Yet regardless of motive, that openness did eventually translate into opportunity and mobility. Such sobering realities of history do not detract from the wisdom, if not the genius, of the Founding Fathers. Their extraordinary vision and foresight ultimately influenced the development of a liberal democratic society that proved invigorating for Jewish culture, in which Jews eventually came to participate freely, to mutual benefit, on an unprecedented scale. Stylistic fashions and superseded historical-political perceptions aside, that grateful acknowledgment is at the core of AHAVA. Its optimistic message and hopeful spirit can be as relevant today as during the tercentenary — in some respects even more so, since at least some of its hopes have been further realized since then. As the curtain was about to rise on the tercentenary, The Washington Post Times and Herald expressed an underlying motive for the celebration:

A special gratitude, determination and pride today comes from Americans of Jewish faith. The gratitude is for the rewards of living in a free country; the pride is for having helped to make it that way; the determination is to keep and toughen the idea.

In its broad strokes, AHAVA encapsulated that sentiment.

AHAVA received its world premiere in Washington, D.C., in November 1954 by the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Howard Mitchell, with Lorne Greene narrating. A subsequent performance in Rochester, New York, was conducted by Erich Leinsdorf.

 

David Diamond: MIZMOR L'DAVID

In the spring of 1943, Cantor David J. Putterman, who served the pulpit of New York 's Park Avenue Synagogue — a nationally prominent and religiously centrist congregation affiliated with the Conservative movement — presented his first "Sabbath Eve Service of Liturgical Music by Contemporary Composers". That service offered, as world premieres, the first fruits of his ambitious experiment: the commissioning of well-established as well as promising younger American composers, non-Jews as well as Jews, to write for the American Synagogue and its liturgy. There were some precedents in Europe during the 19th century, notably in Vienna and Paris, for invitations to local Jewish and Christian composers for synagogue settings. Some American synagogues also preceded Putterman in commissioning new music for Jewish worship — in some cases by highly important composers. But Putterman's project, unlike those occasional or onetime occurrences, was soon designed to function in perpetuity on an annual basis.

Over its decades-long span, Putterman's Park Avenue Synagogue program sought to encourage serious artists — who were often outside the specifically Jewish liturgical music world — to contribute to Jewish worship, each according to his own stylistic language without imposed conditions. In addition, Putterman's practical aim was to accumulate an expanding repertoire of sophisticated music suitable for American synagogues, many of whose worshipers were no strangers to contemporary developments in the world of serious cultivated music.

The very first new music service that spring included world premieres of settings by Alexandre Gretchaninoff, Paul Dessau, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Hugo Chaim Adler, and Max Helfman — all commissioned expressly for the occasion — along with other contemporary but preexisting works by accomplished synagogue composers. The experiment proved immediately successful, and Putterman soon organized permanent funding for the annual commissions and premiere performances. The underlying mission was stated in the printed programs furnished for the congregation: "The program is dedicated to the enhancement of Jewish worship; to a wider diffusion and utilization of the resources of Jewish music; and to the encouragement of those who give of their lives and genius to its enrichment".

Those special Friday evening services of new music soon became not only important occasions for the wider Jewish community, but also eagerly anticipated annual events on New York 's general cultural calendar; and they attracted considerable national attention as well. For the composers mostly associated with the general music arena, the commissions often constituted unique artistic challenges. For those already devoted in some measure to Jewish liturgical expression, the annual commission award became a much coveted honor as well as a prestigious opportunity — almost a "right of passage" in some perceptions. Indeed, by the end of the 20th century, many of the most significant works in the aggregate literature of American synagogue music had been born as Putterman commissions.

Over the years, dozens of successful composers received Putterman commissions and had their music presented at those annual services. The roster includes, among many others, such names as Leonard Bernstein, Kurt Weill, Darius Milhaud, Herman Berlinski, Stefan Wolpe, Alexandre Tansman, David Amram, Robert Starer, Jack Gottlieb, Lazar Weiner, Yehudi Wyner, Miriam Gideon, Marvin David Levy, Leo Smit, Lukas Foss, Jacob Druckman, Leo Sowerby — and David Diamond. Of equal interest from a historical perspective is the list of many of America's most prized composers who were invited by Putterman but who, for one reason or another, declined: Arnold Schoenberg (who did seriously contemplate the proposition), Samuel Barber, Paul Hindemith, Paul Creston, Walter Piston, Norman Dello Joio, Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Bernard Hermann, William Schuman, and Igor Stravinsky — to cite only some.

The first seven annual contemporary music services comprised individual settings of specific prayer texts by a variety of composers. Beginning with the premiere of Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Sacred Service for the Sabbath Eve (Op. 122) at the 1950 service — and for more than a quarter century afterward, with the exception of special anniversaries or retrospectives — entire musical services as artistically unified works by single composers were commissioned and presented each year.

The 1951 commission went to David Diamond, who had already contributed two settings for previous new music services at Park Avenue. A tightly unified work, the various sections of Mizmor L'david are, as Diamond described, "cyclically related", with a thematic and structural arch connecting them. "Everything is motivically and structurally connected, with motives and leitmotifs that are transformed. This is a technique that is certainly a result of my wonderful studies with Roger Sessions; and, of course, Boulanger, who was even more remarkable in that sense." The entire work includes four selections from the kabbalat Shabbat (welcoming the Sabbath) service (of which three have been excerpted for this recording), and sixteen settings from the evening service proper ( arvit ) — as well as three organ pieces: a prelude and two interludes.

The premiere of Mizmor L'david was reviewed in The New York Times by no less prominent a critic than Harold Schonberg — an indication of the legitimacy and wide respect those annual services had come to achieve far beyond Jewish communal confines. "One feels that Diamond strove hard to get at the basic core of his texts", Schonberg wrote — one of the highest compliments one can pay to any composer who wrestles with the inner meanings of the Hebrew liturgy. The work was repeated in its entirety at the Park Avenue Synagogue for its twenty-second annual new music service, in 1966, in honor of the composer's fortieth birthday. It was the only occasion there of such an encore of a complete service by a living composer.

 

Morton Gould: HAMMA'ARIV ARAVIM
Roy Harris
: MI KHAMOKHA
Douglas Moore : VAY'KHULLU

The three other individual prayer settings heard here are composed by members of what might be considered the same circle as Diamond's: that of well-established and well-recognized 20th century American composers. These pieces, too, were written on commission from Cantor Putterman and the Park Avenue Synagogue.

One of the interesting but less commonly realized features of the Putterman commissioning program was its invitation to a number of non-Jewish composers — which had also been the case with the 19th century Vienna and Paris episodes. Putterman was interested in generating the best possible music for American Jewish worship, whatever the affiliations or faith of the composers, and he appears to have been particularly intrigued by the experimental dimension of Hebrew liturgical expression by some who had little or no exposure to the synagogue — Jews as well as non-Jews in some cases — and who would thereby broaden the field from both artistic and spiritual perspectives. Putterman's inaugural contemporary music service in 1943 included a newly commissioned Hebrew setting of adonai malakh (Psalm 97) by Alexandre Gretchaninoff (1864–1956), a non-Jewish Moscow-born Russian composer who was an émigré from the Bolshevik Revolution and who, in addition to his reputation for operatic works in particular, had written a good deal of Russian Orthodox Church music. Among other non-Jewish composers commissioned in succeeding years, in addition to Roy Harris and Douglas Moore, were Henry Brant, William Grant Still, and McNeil Robinson.

Both the Park Avenue Synagogue and Putterman took pride in this aspect of the program. The synagogue's own press release for the 1946 service referred to Putterman's invitations to composers "regardless of color or creed". And it went on to explain: "Since music is the universal language of all mankind and ministers to human welfare, Cantor Putterman feels that it can be a most useful medium for better relations between peoples and faiths, because 'rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul'."

In retrospect, once the project beckoned to composers outside the specifically Jewish liturgical realm, there should not have been anything so surprising about that aspect: inviting some composers without regard to religious or even ethnic-cultural affiliation was merely part of the innovation. Although many of the invited Jewish composers from the general music field, such as Diamond, had at least a basic Jewish education, as well as some familiarity with the synagogue and liturgical Hebrew, others had neither — in some cases, not even from childhood. For them, the fresh experience of exploring the Hebrew liturgy for artistic expression could be as much uncharted territory as for non-Jewish composers. Morton Gould, for example, though Jewish, had no hesitation in informing Putterman that he had no knowledge of Hebrew and could not read it phonetically. Thus he would require transliterations in order to compose his setting for Hamma'ariv aravim, which was commissioned for the 1947 service. Yet his setting provided a delightfully fresh but altogether valid expression of those words in the opening section of the arvit service.

Roy Harris's Mi khamokha was commissioned for the 1946 service. Originally he wanted to include a trumpet and trombone together with the organ accompaniment, having used brass previously in sacred music. Even though traditional Judaic legal restrictions prohibiting instrumental music on the Sabbath obviously did not apply at the Park Avenue Synagogue, where the organ played an important role, Putterman felt it would be out of character — at least in congregational perception — for a religious service.

Harris transformed the brief mi khamokha text into an extended setting by exploring different sonorities and potential timbres of individual words and verbal phrases, taking considerable and unusual liberties in repetition and varied accentuation. Despite its unorthodox treatment of the words, Putterman found it "a priceless addition to the enrichment of the musical liturgy of the Synagogue".

Douglas Moore's Vay'khullu was commissioned for the 1948 service. His orientation toward expressive operatic vocal lines is evident here in both the choral and the solo passages, which majestically proclaim and recall the biblical origin of the Sabbath as contained in Genesis. Its stately character succeeds in setting a tone at once restful and reverent, in anticipation of the following text, which announces worship of God as "the great, mighty, revered and most high God, Master of heaven and earth".

Neil W. Levin

 


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