Eitan Steinberg – Assembly of the Souls for voice and ensemble (2014)
Text: From the Talmud (in Hebrew), and by the 9th century Sufi saint Abu al-Hassan al-Nuri (in Arabic)
“Assembly of the Souls” was composed in the summer of 2014, during the recent Israeli-Palestinian war. When the war broke I was in the first steps of composing a new piece. I wanted the piece to refer to a specific kind of Jewish meditative melodies, traditionally performed in Hassidic assemblies to awaken people’s souls for spiritual growth. But once again war and violence took over, and spirituality seemed far. And so I looked for texts that refer to the human nature, with our high moral potential, as well as our destructive evil potential. I am not a religious person, but I have found resonance to my feelings in the rabbinic dispute over the moral and immoral aspects of men: the Talmud tells that men’s built-in duality is so troubling, that when God was about to create Adam, He saw the future wrongs of men and hesitated. It was only when God used the quality of Mercy that he could go on and create men kind. I have found another beautiful resonance in the Arabic text written by the 9th century Sufi Saint Al-Nuri, about the human heart: God had planted Hope and Love in it, and made this garden a home for His divine presence. Both Sufi mysticism and the Talmudic thought emphasize that it is men’s own responsibility to choose what to manifest in the world – the destructive aspect or the compassionate, life-enhancing aspect.
Resonance is an essential element in this piece. Resonance of philosophical thought, resonance of Hebrew and Arabic texts, and a musical resonance: the ensemble resonates the vocal line, sometimes by imitation, counterpoint and heterophony, other times by creating a static sound-space in which the voice can exist.
The piece is built of three main parts: the first is sung in Hebrew, the second is sung in Arabic, and the third is sung without words. It is in the third part that I have quoted one of those Hassidic meditative melodies, from the Lubavich tradition, here interpreted as a painful lament.
“Assembly of the Souls” was commissioned by Boston Musica Viva ensemble and premiered by them in Sept. 2014, with vocalist Etty BenZaken and conductor Richard Pittman. Today’s performance is its West Coast Premier.
Notes by the composer
English translation of the texts
The texts in Eitan Steinberg’s “Assembly of the Souls” are:
Prologue (solo vocal murmur) in Hebrew:
“When the Holy One, blessed be He, came to create Adam, He saw righteous and wicked arising from him. Said He: ‘If I create him, wicked men spring from him; if I do not create him, how are the righteous to spring from him?’ What did the Lord do? He removed the way of the wicked out of His sight and associated the quality of mercy with Himself and created him”
– Midrash Rabbah, Genesis, VIII
First part, in Hebrew:
“For two and a half years were Beth Shammai and Beth Hillel in dispute, the former asserting that it were better for man not to have been created than to have been created, and the latter maintaining that it is better for man to have been created than not to have been created. They finally took a vote and decided that it were better for man not to have been created than to have been created, but now that he has been created, let him investigate his past deeds, or, as others say, let him examine his future actions.”
– Talmud, Eruvin 13b
Second part, in Arabic:
“Know that God—praised be He—created a house within the believer and called it heart; Then He sent a wind from his generosity and with it cleaned that house from heresy, from doubt, from hypocrisy and from division; Then he sent forth a cloud from his gracefulness, and showered rain upon that house and grew in it varieties of plants: certainty, confidence, faithfulness, awe, hope and love. Then the Lord—the most magnificent said: “This is my house of treasures upon my earth, this is the place of my gaze and the abode of my oneness, this is where I dwell. How pleasant is the dweller and how pleasant is the house.” – Abu al-Hassan al-Nuri, Stations of the Heart
Third part is sung without words.
Epilogue (a short murmur) in Hebrew:
“When God created the first man He took him and showed him all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him ‘See My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are. And everything that I created, I created it for you. Be careful not to spoil or destroy My world – for if you do, there will be nobody after you to repair it.”
– Kohelet Rabbah, 7
Saad Haddad – The Little Boy and Ah Sunflower
The Little Boy takes its text from William Blake’s “The Little Boy Lost” and “The Little Boy Found” from his Songs of Innocence. I chose these texts with the theme of ‘Father’s Day’ in mind since I knew the piece would be premiered on that special occasion. The Little Boy is dedicated to my father, Nadim S. Haddad, the most intelligent and familial man I know.
Ah Sunflower takes its text from William Blake’s “Ah Sunflower” from his Songs of Experience. The piece is dedicated to the memory of my khalo (“uncle” in Arabic), Fadi Ishak, who passed away in 2007. Upon reading this poem for the first time, it immediately struck me that I needed to set this to music. Khalo Fadi was always enamored with sunflowers and it would be difficult to find a room in his home that didn’t have at least one! He was the sunflower of my childhood, brightly shining and always smiling.
Karim Haddad – In te anime meus tempora metior
For mezzo soprano, french horn, electric guitar, double bass, bass drum and tape (1999)
Two interleaved voices in five movements.
The first voice: speculative — St Augustine; mind measuring time
In te anime meus tempora metior (In thee, O my mind, I measure time)
The second voice: (Rainer Maria Rilke)
Verb muted in time blooming in a new space: der vielen Fernen
Electronic choir and bass drum
Alles ist weit- voices inside stringed harmonic sonic folds
I. In te,…
II. …der vielen Fernen,…
III. …anime meus,…
IV. Alles ist weit-,
V ….tempora metior. (,und nirgends schließt sich der Kreis.)
I. In thee,…
II. many distances,…
III. …O my mind,..
IV. All is distant-,
V. …I measure Time.
(,and nowhere does the circle close.)
—St. Augustin, (I- III-V) , Rainer Maria Rilke (II – IV)
Mesut Ozgen – Blue Journey (Mavi Yolculuk)
Blue Journey (Mavi Yolculuk) was commissioned by Lars Johannesson and premiered in his Santa Cruz Chamber Players concert entitled ”Over the Sea: An Exploration of Aquatic Inspired Music,” including works by Takemitsu, Ravel, Debussy, Tanabe, Nelson, and Tedesco, in Aptos in March 2011. The term “Blue Journey” refers to a special boat trip in the southwest Mediterranean coast of Turkey, known as ”Mavi Yolculuk”. I explore this journey in the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean sea by invoking various sounds of the sea and the feelings of the travelers using unconventional techniques and traditional Turkish modes (makam) and rhythms (usul) on flute, cello, and guitar.
The term Mavi Yolculuk was first time used by the Turkish author Azra Erhat as the title of her book in 1957, describing her explorative boat trips together with several other intellectuals. Being some of the important writers in Turkish literature, they contributed to the popularity of this particular area of Turkey, which includes now famous touristic destinations Bodrum, Didim, Kusadasi, and Antalya, through their writings.
Later, these boat trips developed into an alternative vacation concept and currently have been used for the recreational boating tours along the Turkish Riviera on Turkey’s southwestern coast with connotations in tourism and literature.
I used mainly two traditional Turkish makams and usuls in the main sections of the piece: Makam Segah in Usul Curcuna and Makam Hüzzam in Usul Devri Hindi. Between the main sections there are other sections trying to create the various sounds of the sea. I also used a Bektasi sufi hymn (nefes) as a unifiying short melody in the background.
Notes by the composer