"Hatikvah" - Variations for Piano

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"Hatikvah" - Variations for Piano

Post by Lance » Mon Jul 28, 2008 10:05 pm

~ Mini-Review ~

Hatikvah

As long as the inmost of hearbeats
A Jewish feeling imparts,
As long as the southerly ramparts
Of Zion are sought by an eye,
So long dwells the hope on this planet
That upheld us for 2000 years:
We will once again be a free people
In Jerusalem, Zion's sweet land.


James Raphael (b. 1953), piano
Ars Musici, AM 1282, DDD, 73:05

_______________________________________

My first exposure to Hatikvah was through a live orchestral/choral performance rendered by Leonard Bernstein, the Israel Philharmonic and Tel Aviv Philharmonic Choir on a Columbia stereo LP recording [MS 7053, never re-released on CD to my knowledge], captured in a way that is immediately touching and heart-wrenching. The disc was entitled Hatikvah on Mt. Scopus. I have never heard it performed better by anyone else.

Recently, I discovered James Raphael's own Thirteen Variations and Fugue on the Theme 'Hatikvah composed in 1995. Lasting a tad over 20 minutes, nothing I could say informs better than the notes included with the CD, which I quote in full with regard to Hatikvah:

"According to the 'Kabbalah,' the book of Jewish mysticism, 13 is a spiritually highly significant number, being in itself the number of God. Also the 13 attributes of God were divinely revealed to Moses [2 Moses 34, 6-7]. For this reason, James Raphael chose to compose 13 variations and a fugue on the Israeli National Anthem 'Hatikvah' (Hope). The melody of Hatikvah [sometimes spelled Hatikva] has two parts: the first half is identical, almost note for note, with the main theme of Bedrich Smetana's symphonic poem 'The Moldau,' composed in 1874, four years before the text of Hatikvah was written. The second half is based on the Moldavian folksong, 'Carru cu boi' (Cart with Oxen).

It was Raphael's desire to capture in each variation a different facet of the Jewish spirit. After the statement of the theme over majestic, rolling chords in A minor, the central key of the entire work, Variation I modifies not only Hatikvah but also refers to the popular Hassidic folksong, 'Und als der Rebbe tanzt.' Variation II is a more lively dance, but is the firey Russian folk dance à la Khachaturian in Variation IV that sets every foot in the house tapping. The atmospherically most suggestive section of the work is Variation VI: a prayerlike incantation with the fiorituras and augmented seconds of the Near East. The stormy and defiant parallel octaves of Variation XIII, reminiscent of the middle section of Chopin's Polonaise No. 6 in A-flat Major, Op. 53 establish the connection between the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1943 and the unsuccessful Polish Revolution of 1830, and prepare the victorious finale representing the creation of the state of Israel. The fugue, in five voices, evinces great polyphonic mastery. It breaks off at its climax, and the actual finale (presto) unfolds a fierce battle for liberation, interrupted briefly by a return of the prayerlike incantation for Variation VI. The resumption of the tumult leads to the final restatement of Hatikvah.

Raphael has dedicated these variations to the victims of the Holocaust in general, and, in particular, to the memory of his grandmother, Julie, his Uncle Victor and Aunt Beatrice, as well as variouis cousins who lost their lives in Auschwitz after being deported from Salonika, Greece. The piece has been broadcast worldwide over Vatican Radio as a moving ecumenical gesture on the part of the Roman Catholic Church."

Los Angeles-born James Raphael's roots are traced to France, Spain, Greece and Bucharia. His maternal great grandfather was the Kabbalist rabbi Shlomo Moussaieff who financed the buildling of a large portion of the Bucharian Quarter of Jerusalem, and was reported to have been a maker of miracles. When he was six, James Raphael discovered an old piano in his father's antique shop in Brighton, England. This was the point where the young lad began to develop his pianistic skills. He studied with Aldo Ciccolini, Nadia Boulanger, Carlo Zecchi, Rina Rossi, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and Paul Badura-Skoda.

He met pianist Artur Rubinstein in Paris for the first time and developed a friendship and artistic relationship with the elder master. The photo on the back page of the booklet shows the pianist with Golda Meir (Israeli prime minister) who is congratulating Raphael on his performance at the first (1974) Artur Rubinstein Piano Competition in Jerusalem.

The disc also includes James Raphael's Kaddish, from 1996, a Jewish prayer for the dead, Nino Rota's most interesting (1911-1979) 15 Preludes (1966), Raphael's Variations on a Theme by Nino Rota from the film The Godfather, and, as an encore, Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, recorded live in 1997.

James Raphael can certainly play the piano, this one, unfortunately, a somewhat clangy instrument, sounding like a Hamburg Steinway to these ears. The Hatikvah is much kinder to the ears than the pianist-composer's Kaddish, but who could not be touched by Hatikvah's melody?.

If you enjoy pianistic "variations," you will, no doubt, find this recording — especially Hatikvah a most interesting listening experience, a work making considerable demands upon the pianist - and piano, but with something very special to say in this re-creation.
Lance G. Hill
Editor-in-Chief
______________________________________________________

When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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Ricordanza
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Re: "Hatikvah" - Variations for Piano

Post by Ricordanza » Tue Jul 29, 2008 6:03 am

Lance wrote:Los Angeles-born James Raphael's roots are traced to France, Spain, Greece and Bucharia. His maternal great grandfather was the Kabbalist rabbi Shlomo Moussaieff who financed the buildling of a large portion of the Bucharian Quarter of Jerusalem, and was reported to have been a maker of miracles. When he was six, James Raphael discovered an old piano in his father's antique shop in Brighton, England. This was the point where the young lad began to develop his pianistic skills. He studied with Aldo Ciccolini, Nadia Boulanger, Carlo Zecchi, Rina Rossi, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and Paul Badura-Skoda.
This brings back memories! When he was about 14 years old, James Raphael also studied with George Armstrong in New York, and so did I. I recall a group "practice recital" in Mr. Armstrong's Carnegie Hall studio. Although he was the youngest in age, he was far ahead of the rest of us--indeed, I remember one of the older students running out of the room crying, she was so frustrated by being "shown up" by this young (and clumsy looking) whiz kid. I always wondered what happened to him. Does he live in the US?

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Re: "Hatikvah" - Variations for Piano

Post by pizza » Tue Jul 29, 2008 6:11 am

Thanks for the info Lance. I'm certainly going to buy the recording. How do these variations compare with Rzewski's El Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido for both interest and complexity?

SaulChanukah

Re: "Hatikvah" - Variations for Piano

Post by SaulChanukah » Tue Jul 29, 2008 7:18 am

The Hatikva music sounds almost the same as the theme from Smetana's Má vlast (My Fatherland).

Please Listen

Smetana :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEbvgTFhV_o

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0lPLOeB ... re=related

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Re: "Hatikvah" - Variations for Piano

Post by GK » Wed Jul 30, 2008 10:13 am

Some years ago when the cold war was still on but there was a thaw in the relations, my cousin visited eastern Europe. In a cafe (I don't recall the location) a pianist was ostensibly playing the Moldau theme. At one point my cousin, who knows his classical music, realized that he was actually playing Hatikvah. The pianist noticing my cousin's surprise, winked at him. Perhaps a tiny rebellion against a regime which like all eastern European governments was anti-Israel.

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Re: "Hatikvah" - Variations for Piano

Post by Febnyc » Wed Jul 30, 2008 10:20 am

Well, Lance, I ordered the disc, on the strength of your recommendation, from Qualiton, who appear to be the US distributor for the Ars Musici label. I look forward to hearing the Variations - both those on "Hatikva" and the Godfather set, too.

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Re: "Hatikvah" - Variations for Piano

Post by Lance » Wed Jul 30, 2008 11:29 am

GK wrote:Some years ago when the cold war was still on but there was a thaw in the relations, my cousin visited eastern Europe. In a cafe (I don't recall the location) a pianist was ostensibly playing the Moldau theme. At one point my cousin, who knows his classical music, realized that he was actually playing Hatikvah. The pianist noticing my cousin's surprise, winked at him. Perhaps a tiny rebellion against a regime which like all eastern European governments was anti-Israel.
Greetings, Frank!

I think you'll like the disc. These are very unusual variations, but after hearing them once, I think you will want to hear them again and again ... especially for the allusions to other composers' "styles" the pianist incorporates into his piece. I didn't mention, in my original post, Nino Rota's [1911-1979] 15 Preludes from 1966. I had to hear them several times, but find much that fascinates the ear here as well. Please let me know what you think of, especially, the Hatikvah Variations. Near as I know, this is the only recording of the work. The pianist works feverishly to accomplish his goal ... it's a most demanding piece of music.
Lance G. Hill
Editor-in-Chief
______________________________________________________

When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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Re: "Hatikvah" - Variations for Piano

Post by Febnyc » Wed Jul 30, 2008 12:09 pm

Lance wrote: Please let me know what you think of, especially, the Hatikvah Variations. Near as I know, this is the only recording of the work. The pianist works feverishly to accomplish his goal ... it's a most demanding piece of music. [/color]
Lance: Wilco.

Incidentally, I am a fan of Nino Rota - own many CDs of his music. He's not often mentioned as one of those composers who embraced both film scores and "serious" works. Rota wrota (that's Italian, of course) symphonies, piano concertos, chamber works, ballet music and more.

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Re: "Hatikvah" - Variations for Piano

Post by Febnyc » Wed Jul 30, 2008 4:36 pm

Faster than a speeding bullet...

Ordered the Hatikva disc online yesterday - arrived via UPS today. How's that for service???
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Ricordanza
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Re: "Hatikvah" - Variations for Piano

Post by Ricordanza » Mon Nov 03, 2008 6:57 am

I resurrected this old thread to report that I finally made e-mail contact with James Raphael (he did recall our time as fellow students of George Armstrong), and I obtained this CD directly from him. At first listen this weekend, I was truly impressed by his pianistic and compositional abilities. But I plan to listen some more; his own compositions certainly deserve more than one hearing.

My e-mail exchange with him was very brief. I didn't get a chance to ask him about his current activities, but my question was answered in part by the business card he enclosed with the CD. The card lists his name (rather pretentiously) as Maestro James Raphael. The next line says: Concert Pianist and Fine Jeweler, followed by Raphael Gems and Jewelry Designs, Outstanding Values in Fine Jewelry. Four addresses are listed: two in Texas, one in California and one in Rome.

Thus, it appears that this very fine pianist is not making his primary living from music. Perhaps I'll find out more after further e-mail exchanges with him.

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Re: "Hatikvah" - Variations for Piano

Post by violinland » Mon Nov 03, 2008 8:15 am

Thank you for your "aside." Your asides are always very interesting and informative. I can only imagine the mental thrill you experienced knowing Einstein was so close! It's been a long time since I was in Liverpool (I think some of my family may have come from their and also from York, on my father's side). I would love to meet you and hear some of those violinistic treasures you have at your fingertips. We're delighted that you are back amongst us, Cheniston! Hope all is going well and you are at the top, once again.
Lance wrote: Hatikvah
_______________________________________

My first exposure to Hatikvah was through a live orchestral/choral performance rendered by Leonard Bernstein
Another interesting thread with a mammoth contribution by Lance.

As an aside I have this to tell you.

The Israel national anthem was finally arranged by Bertram B Benas who is credited as composer. B B Benas, was a Jewish Liverpool solicitor, a man held in great esteem by everyone who knew him both Jews and non Jews. In 1969 I was collaborating on the book "Two Centuries of Music in Liverpool" with Stainton De B Taylor. One of our meetings was at the Liverpool Athenaeum. During lunch B B Benas joined us to talk about the book and Liverpool music. We were later joined by Sir Charles Groves who was to write the forward for the book. It was suggested that I become a proprietor; my proposer was to be De B Taylor and my seconder B B Benas. B B Benas recognized me as he was chairman of the board of governors at my public school Liverpool College. It was not until October 1997 that I became a proprietor. I am almost sure that the Athenaeum Library has a copy of the music signed by B B Benas. If memory serves me right the work was first performed by a brass band.

B B Benas was a great friend of Einstein and legend has it that they used to play together B B Benas was regarded as an accomplished pianist who lived just about a mile from me. The thought that when Einstein visited B B Benas, that he was less that a mile away from me has always thrilled me with delight. The correspondence between Einstein and B B Benas is preserved in the Liverpool Records Office.

CHENISTON K ROLAND O.L.
(Violin Historian)
http://www.violinland.com
Author, Broadcaster, Lecturer and Editor of the Violin Times
Member of the Liverpool Medical Institution
VIOLIN EDITOR CMG

Private contact on this board violinland@talktalk.net
SKYPE me as violinlands,"You know you want to"

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Re: "Hatikvah" - Variations for Piano

Post by Auntie Lynn » Mon Nov 03, 2008 9:21 am

That's about right. Every time I play Smetana's Iceberg, my Jewish friends stand up and salute...

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Re: "Hatikvah" - Variations for Piano

Post by Lance » Mon Nov 03, 2008 12:19 pm

Thank you for the update, Ricordanza. I'm glad you didn't give up on trying to locate the man. Perhaps you can forward his e-mail address to me. I would like to do a program on the radio. If you feel comfortable with this, perhaps you can send the e-mail address to me via private message here. May I refer to you in my contact with him? I don't know your actual name, however!
Ricordanza wrote:I resurrected this old thread to report that I finally made e-mail contact with James Raphael (he did recall our time as fellow students of George Armstrong), and I obtained this CD directly from him. At first listen this weekend, I was truly impressed by his pianistic and compositional abilities. But I plan to listen some more; his own compositions certainly deserve more than one hearing.

My e-mail exchange with him was very brief. I didn't get a chance to ask him about his current activities, but my question was answered in part by the business card he enclosed with the CD. The card lists his name (rather pretentiously) as Maestro James Raphael. The next line says: Concert Pianist and Fine Jeweler, followed by Raphael Gems and Jewelry Designs, Outstanding Values in Fine Jewelry. Four addresses are listed: two in Texas, one in California and one in Rome.

Thus, it appears that this very fine pianist is not making his primary living from music. Perhaps I'll find out more after further e-mail exchanges with him.
Lance G. Hill
Editor-in-Chief
______________________________________________________

When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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Re: "Hatikvah" - Variations for Piano

Post by MarkC » Tue May 25, 2010 11:29 pm

Wow. :)
Guess what........I stumbled on this old thread via GOOGLE search (not a search of this site), looking up something about James.

He's been part of the "amateur competition" scene, and he's featured quite a bit in the documentary They Came to Play which I've talked about on here, including in this thread:
http://www.classicalmusicguide.com/view ... 59#p358759

I was very interested to see that our guy RICORDANZA knows James from way back. Since Ric got back in touch with him, I imagine he knows that James had some nice personal ramifications from his participation in the amateur Cliburn competition, completely aside from the music. At these "competitions," often the competition itself is almost incidental to the experience.

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Re: "Hatikvah" - Variations for Piano

Post by Lance » Tue May 25, 2010 11:36 pm

How nice to see this thread pop up again and to give me a reminder to play the Hatikvah Variations once again!

And MarkC - if you search CMG, you might be surprised to know what is here! I'm delighted to learn that a Google search brought you right back to your good old home here at CMG!
:)
Lance G. Hill
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When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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Re: "Hatikvah" - Variations for Piano

Post by MarkC » Wed May 26, 2010 12:35 am

Lance wrote:......I'm delighted to learn that a Google search brought you right back to your good old home here at CMG! :)
I thought it was totally wild. :)

And of course I was delighted to see that James has been discussed here.

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Re: "Hatikvah" - Variations for Piano

Post by Lance » Wed May 26, 2010 12:47 am

Yes, well ... his recording was wonderful! He should be recording more ... much more!
MarkC wrote:
Lance wrote:......I'm delighted to learn that a Google search brought you right back to your good old home here at CMG! :)
I thought it was totally wild. :)

And of course I was delighted to see that James has been discussed here.
Lance G. Hill
Editor-in-Chief
______________________________________________________

When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

Image

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Re: "Hatikvah" - Variations for Piano

Post by Ricordanza » Wed May 26, 2010 5:29 am

MarkC wrote:I was very interested to see that our guy RICORDANZA knows James from way back. Since Ric got back in touch with him, I imagine he knows that James had some nice personal ramifications from his participation in the amateur Cliburn competition, completely aside from the music. At these "competitions," often the competition itself is almost incidental to the experience.
Truthfully, we didn't have much of an email exchange (especially since it took him several weeks to answer me). I did obtain the CD from him and sent him a note thanking him and praising the CD.

Can you fill us in about his participation in the amateur Cliburn competition?

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Re: "Hatikvah" - Variations for Piano

Post by MarkC » Wed May 26, 2010 12:20 pm

How he did in the competition: It was one of the most interesting and controversial things about the event. He finished with the Ritual Fire Dance, which he played (apparently consciously) as an imitation and exaggeration of Rubinstein, including the raising of the hands way way above the keyboard between chords. Also, he added a little hopping up and down on the piano bench, and did sort of a jump-and-turn on the last chord (in one motion) so that as he finished the chord, he was standing and facing the audience.

The audience loved it. He got maybe the biggest ovation of anybody in the 1st round. The judges (or at least some of them) evidently didn't, and he didn't make it past that round. Oh......I should mention....... Something that made the above even more striking was that he is now pretty large -- so, picture this big big guy doing all this ostentatious stuff, and bouncing up and down on the poor bench. It was a remarkable spectacle. (As a technician explains in the film, the bench "didn't survive" the performance.) :) And also.....I didn't really talk about the playing per se. Forgetting the "visual" and just talking about the music, it was still a little controversial -- to some extent it reflected the same stuff, i.e. the piece was a bit "banged out" -- but (at least IMO) say what you want about it, it was on a fully professional level, it was quite spectacular, and unlike much or most of what you hear from amateurs (and maybe pros too), it was something you really wanted to hear. It was a very controversial decision not to advance him past the 1st round. At the presentations of the film that I attend (where we have "Q & A" sessions), I sometimes talk specifically about that. Of all the 75 contestants, he was one of perhaps only two who stood out as showing real "personality" in the playing and who captured the audience on that level. I think that this in itself (barring incompetence, which wasn't the case) should be enough to advance someone to at least the 2nd round.

The other stuff -- which I just learned of -- is that apparently at this 2007 event he met a lady (also a pianist) whom he has since married, and they have a baby. But I should add, don't take this as absolute fact, because sometimes such stories can be a little mixed up; but I think it is so.

You may be interested to try to check out that film, because (as I said) he is prominently featured in it, including that he is shown playing the end portion of the de Falla.

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Re: "Hatikvah" - Variations for Piano

Post by MarkC » Wed May 26, 2010 12:47 pm

P.S. Ric -- you don't have to see the film to see that performance.
Here it is on YouTube:


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Re: "Hatikvah" - Variations for Piano

Post by Ricordanza » Thu May 27, 2010 5:24 am

MarkC wrote:P.S. Ric -- you don't have to see the film to see that performance.
Here it is on YouTube:
A formidable technique, and I don't mind a little showmanship, but apart from the visual aspect, musically, it is banged out. I think the jurors got it right (and I think that our mutual teacher, Mr. Armstrong, would have registered his displeasure if he could have witnessed this performance).

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Re: "Hatikvah" - Variations for Piano

Post by Lance » Thu May 27, 2010 2:11 pm

I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the performance. There is, of course, the Rubinstein-like theatrics, which—viewing in a live performance—does much for the pianist's onlookers! On the other hand, as with many live performances of demanding repertoire, there are finger-slips; I also noted erratic tempi here and there, probably easy to do with such a piece, i.e. maintaining complete control under those performance conditions. Perhaps the judges really did do their jobs!
Lance G. Hill
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When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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Re: "Hatikvah" - Variations for Piano

Post by MarkC » Thu May 27, 2010 10:19 pm

VERY INTERESTING to see the posts by Ric and Lance.

I guess I have a lower standard of amusement. :)

Plus, I admit gladly, I give huge weight (no pun intended) :lol: to spectacle, plus anything that's "different" (although I'm not in the Glenn Gould school of thought which says that the only reason to do something is to do it differently). Granted, this wasn't different in the sense of being unique, but it was certainly "different" in relation to anything else in that competition.

I could argue that this gets into "what do mean" by how good a performance is -- how much of it is the pure music; and how much (if any) is "epiphenomena" which may (depending on your tastes) either contribute to or detract from the experience.

To me, the epiphenomena count a lot. Apparently they counted to that audience too, in a positive way -- and, for what it's worth, this was a relatively sophisticated audience. (To the judges, they counted either not at all, or negatively.)

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