Updated: Mar 15
I am excited to share with you the second performance of my piece THE GALE (mixed chorus and piano or orchestra, here performed with piano); the duration is six-and-a-half minutes, so it is a substantial piece. This same group (From Age to Age conducted by Peter J. Durow) gave this work its world premiere performance on November 1. This video is of their entire concert. The music for my piece starts at around time index 28:00; Peter begins discussing it with the audience at around time index 26:00. I will place the program notes for the piece as a comment directly below the video. Thank you for listening. I hope you find this piece moving, and the text astonishing. https://www.facebook.com/FATAsings/videos/352926512177996/
Premiere performances by
From Age to Age, Peter J. Durow, Conductor,
November 1, 2018, Open World Learning Community, St. Paul, MN,
and November 11, 2018, Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan, MN.
The fact that the text for this work even exists is a miracle. It was written by Abraham (“Abramek”) Koplowicz, a Jewish boy who was exterminated by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Abramek was born in 1930 in Lodz, Poland, and died in 1944 in that country’s infamous concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. He wrote this poem during the time that his family was trapped in the Lodz ghetto. This poem was not found until 1983 when Eliezer (“Lolek”) Grynfeld, the poet’s half-brother, discovered it among their late father’s belongings, along with other poems, literary works, and artworks left behind by this extraordinary boy.
I was first made aware of Abramek’s poetry when composer Diane Abdi Robertson approached ECS Publishing (where I have served as an editor since 1998) with her setting of his poem, Dream, as translated by Sarah Honig; the company subsequently published her setting. I was immediately smitten by this poem. When I contacted Lolek in Israel by email via Diane to get permission four ECS to publish the poem in her musical setting, he responded in very broken English (he speaks and writes in Polish, Yiddish, and Hebrew, and knows very little English). Eventually he called me at work. Because both of my parents are Jewish Holocaust survivors, I was brought up in a house where Yiddish was frequently spoken. Thus, I could speak and write well enough to communicate with Lolek, and we struck-up an enduring friendship. I consider myself fortunate to be associated with a man of his stature. He has become quite well known in his golden years, in part for having brought Abramek’s creative works to light. Eventually, he generously granted me permission to set to music whatever words I wish by Abramek.
Lolek then introduced me to two translators whose services he secured named Sarah Lawson and Małgorzata Koraszewska, who are also generously allowing me to set and adapt their translations for my musical settings. The first of Abramek’s poems that I chose to set to music was The Clock. I created a setting of it for two-part treble chorus and piano in 2015 which ECS Publishing Group released in 2017.
After my piece The Clock was published, I asked Lolek what he would like for me to my attention to next, and he suggested that I compose a setting of The Gale for chorus and orchestra. Ironically, that is the poem to which I had already turned my attention. Thus, in 2018, I completed a setting of it with either chamber orchestra or piano accompaniment.
The Gale begins with the mood-setting words, “Echoes of the Finale from Symphony No. 2 by Jean Sibelius,” and opens with an instrumental motif that strongly resembles Sibelius’ rising and falling motif from that movement. (His music is notated in eighth notes and mine in sixteenth notes, but the rhythmic result is the same.) While my music is inspired by Sibelius’ motif, it is different in practically all other respects, including melodically and harmonically.
The form of the piece is A1-A2-B-A3. An instrumental introduction leads to the initial choral passage; the rising and falling motif accompanies words filled with powerful, fear-filled imagery during this passage which features intense, sustained choral writing, and ends with the words, “It raced and rushed its way through.” For the next choral passage which begins with the words, “Now the roof creaks,” the accompaniment becomes more varied, starting with arpeggiated chords in sixteenth note rhythms. On the words, “And scatters debris all over the place,” the rhythms in the accompaniment and chorus transform into non-sustained triplet eighth and quarter notes. To add even more aural “debris,” the chorus adds random finger snaps as a sound effect. Running sixteenth notes return in the accompaniment and intense, sustained writing in the chorus to close out Section A1 on the words, “That the world is too frightening to face.”
Section A2 opens with the words, “And the terrible gale.” This section sounds like its predecessor, but is louder as it features the next paragraph of words which are even more intense than the first. Section A2 closes with the words, “And left behind grief and dismay.”
After a brief instrumental interlude, the mood becomes temporarily subdued. Section B begins with the words, “Blackberries mutter to vines.” The ensuing music consists of two passages of quiet alternations between female, male, and mixed voices, ending with the words, “Are wondering what will come next.” The running sixteenth note accompaniment continues to propel the music forward during this and the second choral passage. During that passage, the music gradually speeds up and gets louder until it reaches the emotional climax of the piece on the words, “And roared at the top of its voice,” after which the music slows down and grows quieter, subsiding into the choral section that follows. That third choral section is the standout passage of the piece in that it is the most different-sounding and most subdued. The words are, “Indoors the children could hear, So, they clung to grandpa in fear— Sleeping was never a choice.” The accompaniment stops and starts, allowing for several unaccompanied bars of music. Section B ends on an enigmatic, unresolved choral chord, followed by a bar of rest with the indication, “make random but hushed whistling sounds, like wind” above it; another choral sound effect, like the finger snaps early on.
After a recapitulation of the opening instrumental introduction, Section A3 begins with the words, “The wind is biting and keen.” While this section sounds a lot like its two predecessors, it is truncated, as it is meant to function as closing choral section that leads to a very brief instrumental coda. Section A3 closes with the words, “It dashes on as fast as it can.” Whereas many endings often slow down (ritardando) or remain at the same tempo, (senza ritardando), the ending of The Gale is somewhat unusual in that it speeds up at the end (accelerando) to reflect those final words. The piece ends on a sustained chord in the accompaniment with the chorus once again performing the sound effect, “make random but hushed whistling sounds, like wind,” followed by a bar of rest for all performers, as the gale dashes into the distance to frighten others.
—Stanley M. Hoffman
August 7, 2018