King David and the music

King David…. One of the Bible’s most inspiring and appealing personalities. But did he really exist? We live in a time when all sorts of things are being doubted, and that is alright.

Some historians assume that King David actually existed, but that (as with King Arthur, for example) many of the stories about his life are more likely to be apocryphal and they should not be considered hard historiography. So what? There is still such a thing as faith. And it is a reassuring and lovely story, which is so much needed in our troubled times.

King David, besides being a good man, a naughty husband and a harpist, was also a brilliant poet. His psalms are still among the finest that poetry has ever produced. His influence on art and certainly on music was and is immense. His psalms have therefore been set to music by many composers, think Bach, Allegri, Schütz, Strawinski, Kodaly, among others…. which is one of the reasons I started looking into David again. Whether or not he existed does not really matter. Inspiration does not need scientific evidence and art does not need to be tested against facts.

A small (with an emphasis on ‘small’!) selection of what’s out there. The order is random.

David’s harp playing soothed Saul’s mind and spirit.
Gerrit van Honthorst (1590-1656), King David Playing the Harp (1611), Centraal Museum, Utrecht, Holland

Michael Levy wonders: what would his harp have sounded like? He posted a ‘live’ performance of the traditional Hebrew song “Zemer Atik” (track 5 of his 2008 album, “King David’s Lyre; Echoes of Ancient Israel”):

Zoltan Kodaly, Psalmus Hungaricus:

Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze played by Andras Schiff:

Paul Schoenfield and his beautiful viola concerto ‘King David dancing before the ark’:

Sarah Connolly sings King David by Herbert Howells:

King David’s Suite by Lionel Hampton, recorded in Munich on the occasion of the Munich Summer Piano Festival in 1994. The St Petersburg State Orchestra is conducted by Alexander Tschernuschenko, Lionel Hampton plays vibraphone:

Franz Liszt, Psalms of David

Igor Stravinsky, Symphony of Psalms performed by the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and Great Broadcasting Choir:

Krzysztof Penderecki, Psalm of David recorded at Carnegie Hall:



David symphony for Harp (act I, scene V) Sara Águeda, arpa doppia:

Aria of David:

Carl Nielsen, the entire opera:

Paul Ben-Haim, Sweet Psalmist of Israel. David before Saul.:


Jonathan was the son of Saul, king of Israel, from the tribe of Benjamin. David was from the tribe of Judah. Once rivals for the crown, they became friends and probably more, but the Bible does not explicitly portray the true nature of David and Jonathan’s relationship. The traditional interpretation of their friendship emphasises platonic love, an example of ‘homosociality’. Something later described as strong personal friendships between men. Today, there is often an emphasis on what some see as homoeroticism in the story

David et Jonathas by Charpentier, recording from Ais-en-Provence:

Trudy Labij: ‘What I’ve been reading’ from the musical Foxtrot (4), 1977:

Chamber works by Paul Ben-Haim


Slowly, much too slowly and actually much too late, but the music world is waking up.
One gap after another is finally being filled and the (consciously or unconsciously) ‘forgotten’ composers are at long last coming to our CD players.

Paul Ben-Haim's Evocation: what a discovery | Basia con fuoco
Paul Ben-Haim

Who among you has ever heard of Paul Ben-Haim? If not, why not?
The composer was born as Paul Frankenburger in Munich in 1897 and died in Tel Aviv almost 90 years later. And he left behind a really spectacular oeuvre.

Many vocal works, orchestral pieces, chamber music…. What not, actually?
Most of his works are influenced and inspired by Jewish, Israeli and Arab melodies, so you may call his music “nationalistic”. Nothing wrong with that word.

Just take the opening of his 1941 clarinet quintet! The dancing clarinet part reminds one of swinging klezmer, but in a Brahmsian way.

The ARC Ensemble perform the opening movement of Paul Ben-Haim’s Clarinet Quintet at the Enav Center, Tel Aviv:

This is even more pronounced in his “Two Landscapes” for viola and piano, in which he sings the praises of his new homeland’s beauty.

Steven Dann and Dianne Werner prepare to record The Landscapes for viola and piano:

The “Improvisation and Dance”, dedicated to Zino Francescati, betrays influences from Yemeni folklore and only his oldest work on the CD, the Piano Quartet from 1920, does not yet have its own “face”.

The (very infectious playing!) members of the Canadian ARC Ensemble all work at the Glenn Gould Conservatory in daily life. A CD to cherish.

Paul Ben-Haim
Clarinet Quintet, Two Lanscapes, Canzonetta, Improvisation and Dance,
Piano Quartet
ARC Ensemble
Chandos CHAN 10769

Zwoel en geruststellend: Hagai Shaham speelt Bloch en Ben Haim

Rond zijn vijfentwintigste raakte Ernest Bloch geïnteresseerd in de ‘Joodse ziel’ die hij in zijn eigen taal, de muziek, wilde vertalen. Hij ontwikkelde een eigen stijl en in veel van zijn composities uit die tijd kun je de sfeer van Hebreeuwse gezangen proeven.

Voor de Baal Shem Suite (1923), één van zijn bekendste werken, werd hij geïnspireerd door Israel ben Eliëzer (Baal Shem Tov), de oprichter van het moderne Chassidisme, een beweging die is ontstaan in het achttiende-eeuwse Polen en gebaseerd was op mysticisme, spiritualisme en magische doctrines. Het verkondigde een soort van gelukzaligheid die alleen bereikt kon worden door middel van muziek, dans en gezang want alleen zo kon het directe contact met God bereikt worden.

Van alle uitvoeringen van die van ‘Baal Shem’ (en dat zijn er heel wat) zijn gemaakt is deze, gespeeld door Hagai Shaham en begeleid door Arnon Erez voor mij één van de dierbaarsten. Shahams toon is rond en warm met een gezonde dosis ‘schmalz’. En al balanceert hij vaak net op het randje, nergens ontaardt hij in banaliteiten.

De Berceuse Sfaradite van één van de bekendste Israëlische componisten, Paul Ben- Haïm, gebaseerd op een Sefardisch slaapliedje klinkt bij Shaham zwoel en geruststellend tegelijk. En de vioolsolosuites van beide toondichters, op verzoek van Yehudi Menuhin gecomponeerd veranderen in Shahams handen in vergeten meesterwerken. Prachtig.

Ernest Bloch, Paul Ben-Haïm
Baal Shem Suite, Suites for solo violin, Berceuse sfaradite
Hagai Shaham (viool), Arnon Erez (piano)
Hyperion CDA67571

Paul Ben-Haim’s Evocation: what a discovery

Ben Haim Evocation

Paul Ben -Haim, who was born in Munich in 1897 as Paul Frankenburger and died almost 90 years later in Tel Aviv, remains a great unknown to many music lovers. This is a great pity, because the oeuvre of this sadly forgotten composer is very diverse and most exciting. At one time he was totally immersed in the German Romantic tradition before he almost radically broke with it when he left his native country in 1933.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor Paul Ben-Haim

He began his new life composers life in what was then known as the British Mandate of Palestine by changing his name, after which he also adapted his compositions to his new homeland. Starting in 1933, most of his works were influenced and inspired by Jewish, Israeli and Arabic melodies.

Between 1939 and 1949 Ben-Haim accompanied the at that time extremely famous folk singer Bracha Zefira. Zefira, who was of Yemeni origin, had a great influence on the musical life in what was then Palestine. It was for her that he composed the Berceuse Sfaradite, a song which had become one of her greatest successes.

Bracha Zefira:

The Violin Concerto, which dates from 1950, is probably Ben-Haim’s best-known composition, in no small part as a result of the great recording by Itzhak Perlman. The CD is still on the market, I believe, but as far as I know the Concerto is only rarely performed. Why?

Three Studies for Solo Violin is Ben-Haim’s last violin composition, dedicated to Yehudi Menuhin in 1981. Splendid. But I was most struck by the completely unknown Evocation from 1942, a work which has its premiere here and which really gave me goose bumps. Wow.

Evocation live:

Itamar Zorman, the young Israeli violinist who won the 2011 prize in the Tchaikovsky competition, has immersed himself in the composer and his work. Thanks to him, this album was compiled and released. He plays these works as if his life depends on them. He believes in them and he communicates that belief more than convincingly.

Zorman about Ben-Haim:

The accompaniment by Amy Yang (piano) and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Philippe Bach is first-rate as well

Paul Ben-Haim
Evocation. Poem for violin and orchestra, op. 32, Three Songs without Words, Violin Concerto, Three studies, Berceuse sfaradite, Toccata from Five Pieces for Piano.
Itamar Zorman (violin), Amy Yang (piano), BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Philippe Bach.

Translated with

In Dutch: Evocation van Paul Ben-Haim is een ware ontdekking

More Ben-Haim: PAUL BEN-HAIM

Evocation van Paul Ben-Haim is een ware ontdekking

Ben Haim Evocation

Paul Ben -Haim, de in 1897 in München als Paul Frankenburger geboren en bijna 90 jaar later in Tel Aviv gestorven componist is nog steeds een grote onbekende voor veel muziekliefhebbers. Zo ontzettend jammer, want het oeuvre van de jammerlijk vergeten componist is zeer divers en meer dan spannend. Ooit totaal ondergedompeld in de Duitse romantische traditie brak hij er vrijwel radicaal mee toen hij in 1933 zijn geboorteland verliet.

Zijn nieuwe componistenleven in wat toen het Britsmandaat Palestina heette begon hij met het veranderen van zijn naam, waarna hij ook zijn composities aan zijn nieuwe vaderland aanpaste. Vanaf 1933 werden de meeste van zijn werken beïnvloed en geïnspireerd door Joodse, Israëlische en Arabische melodieën.

Tussen 1939 en 1949 begeleidde Ben-Haim de toen zeer beroemde volkszangeres Bracha Zefira. Zefira, die van Jemenitische oorsprong was had een grote invloed op het muziekleven in het toenmalige Palestina. Het was voor haar dat hij de Berceuse Sfaradite componeerde, een lid dat één van haar grootste successen was geworden.

Bracha Zefira:

Het uit 1950 stammende vioolconcert is wellicht Ben-Haims bekendste compositie, niet in de laatste plaats door de geweldige opname van Itzhak Perlman. De cd is nog steeds in de handel, denk ik, maar het concerto wordt bij mijn weten maar amper uitgevoerd. Waarom?

De Three Studies for Solo Violin is Ben-Haims laatste vioolcompositie, in 1981 opgedragen aan Yehudi Menuhin. Schitterend. Maar het meest getroffen werd ik door de totaal onbekende  Evocation uit 1942, een werk dat hier zijn primeur beleeft en mij echt kippenvel bezorgde. Wow.

Evocation live:

Itamar Zorman, de jonge Israëlische violist die in 2011 de prijswinnaar was van de Tsjaikovski-competitie heeft zich in de componist en zijn werk ‘ingegraven’. Het is aan hem te danken dat dit album werd samengesteld en uitgebracht. Hij speelt de werken alsof zijn leven ervan afhangt. Hij gelooft er in en dat geloof geeft hij meer dan geloofwaardig door.


Zorman over Ben-Haim:

Ook de begeleiding door Amy Yang (piano) en het BBC National Orchestra of Wales o.l.v. Philippe Bach is van een grote klasse.

Paul Ben-Haim
Evocation voor viool en orkest, op. 32, Three Songs without words voor viool en piano,  Vioolconcert, Three studies voor vioolsolo, Berceuse sfaradite voor viool en piano, Toccata uit Five Pieces for piano
Itamar Zorman (viool), Amy Yang (piano), BBC National Orchestra of Wales o.l.v. Philippe Bach

Discovering Jerzy Fitelberg


Is the music world finally waking up? Not if it’s up to the big record companies. With them we are still condemned to Bachs, Beethovens and Wagners. Fortunately, smaller labels like Chandos still exist. A while ago they surprised us with a CD with chamber works by Paul Ben-Haim, now they know how to make me overjoyed with Jerzy Fitelberg.

While Ben-Haim’s name was still a little known here and there, Fitelberg’s name was not. At least not Jerzy’s,  because there are still enough old recordings of his father Grzegorz, who was a famous conductor.


Jerzy Fitelberg (1903 – 1951) was born in Warsaw and first studied with his father who had him play as a percussionist in the orchestra of the National Theatre in order to gain experience. From 1922 he studied composition with Franz Schreker in Berlin, among others. In 1927 he made a name for himself by re-orchestrating Sullivan’s Mikado for Erik Charell’s operetta-revue in the Grosses Schauspielhaus in Berlin. In 1933 he fled first to Paris and from there to New York.

Fitelberg was one of the favourite composers of Copland and Artur Rubinstein, among others. He himself described his compositional style as “full of the energy and high tension of Stravinski combined with the harmonic complexity of Hindemith and the colours of Milhaud’s French music. Plus the much-needed satire”.

Below an arrangement, made by Stefan Frenkel, of a Tango from Fitelberg’s opera ‘Der schlechgefesselte Prometheus’,played by Marleen Asberg (violophone) and Gerard Bouwhuis (piano) at a concert given by the Ebony Band, April 25, 2013 in Amsterdam,


His works were often performed until his death, after which they disappeared from the stage. Until more than sixty years later the ARC Ensemble (yes, the same ensemble that recorded the Ben-Haim CD) picked up the thread.

The first string quartet from 1926 starts with a resolute Presto, which reminds me a lot of Mendelssohn, but not for long. Soon Slavic themes pass by to make way for the melancholic Meno mosso. Beautiful.

The second string quartet , overloaded with prizes in 1928, sounds a bit like Janaček, but with Polish instead of Moravian dances in the background. The sonatine for two violins mixes all the contradictions of the late 1930s: entertainment, jazz and a (cautious) atonality.

Fisches Nachtgesang, a night music for clarinet, cello and celesta is so beautiful that it hurts. It reminds me of a night candle, which goes out carefully. Covered with the soothing words “go to sleep, but don’t worry about it”, but you’re not really reassured.

The members of the Canadian ARC Ensemble, who play contagiously well, all work at the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music. What a CD! Ten out of ten!

Jerzy Fitelberg
Chamber Works
String Quartets Nos 1 and 2
Serenade; Sonatine; Night musik “Fisches Nachtgesang”.
ARC Ensemble
Chandos CHAN 10877

Translated with