Ofer Ben~Amots:

details of selected works


Avis Urbanus

The Joyce Cycle

Psalm 23

Cantillations

A Letter to Avigdor

Psalm 81

May the Words

Cello Sonata

Midnight Dance

Shtetl Songs

Five Ancient Dances

Mt. Fuji Ceremonial Fanfare

Sonatina

"Hashkivenu" Variations

Story No. 2

"I, Jerusalem..."

Prophetic Tropes

Why So Downcast, My Soul


 Ben~Amots: Avis Urbanus (1990)

This dramatic piece for amplified flute won First Prize in the second Kobe International Competition for Flute Composition, sponsored by the Japanese flute manufacturer Muramatsu. Muramatsu published the piece in 1992, but their edition has been hard to find outside Japan; we are pleased now to make the work available worldwide in a new, revised and corrected version. Avis Urbanus is a highly unusual work for Ben-Amots, featuring as it does not only live electronics, but also elements of performance art. He writes of it: "The Latin title of the piece, which means 'City Bird' in its literal translation, is a play on words with several meanings~~Avis: 1) bird 2) singing 3) a bird of omen or an omen in general. The flautist enters and leaves the stage like the brief visit of a bird. The duality in musical atmosphere throughout the piece is created by juxtaposing two contrasting singing gestures: on the one hand, short rapid figures played in the upper registers, reminiscent of a bird's song; on the other hand, a combination of humming and playing techniques mostly in the lowest register. These two extremes reflect a mystical conflict between avibus bonis~~a good omen~~and the avi mala~~a bad omen signifying an unknown or undefined fate."

Listen to part of this piece (via RealAudio).


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 Ben~Amots: Cantillations (1997)

A fine example of the composer's latest style, in which Judaica, contemporary effects, and modernist tradition are blended into a seamless unity. Here, as the title implies, the emotionally rhapsodic fluctuations of synagogue chant form the starting point for a striking clarinet/cello (or clarinet/viola) duet. Carefully written-out "accelerandos" and "decelerandos" give the effect of simultaneous improvisations while in fact retaining strict control at all times. In some places, the conflicting tempi are almost reminiscent of Conlon Nancarrow.

1. Introduction

2. The Voice of Ashkenaz

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 Ben~Amots: Cello Sonata (1982)

The Sonata for Cello and Piano was composed in Germany during 1981-82, and features form, harmonic structure and key relationships typical of classical and romantic sonatas. It is among the first of Ben-Amots's compositions where the influence of Jewish music is recognizable. The entire Sonata is based on a single melodic motive. Despite its early date this is a strongly shaped and personal work of art, and remains one of the composer's best works.

1. Allegro

Driving, turbulent, minor-mode.

2. Recitative and Siciliana

A much-needed point of rest.

3. Rondo: Allegro

Nonstop virtuosity, with some of the cello writing requiring 2 staves.


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 Ben~Amots: Five Ancient Dances (1996)

A suite of 5 character pieces for clarinet or flute and piano, heavily influenced by Jewish folk music, though other east-Mediterranean styles also make an appearance. The second movement, for instance, is based on the Bedouin debka, in which a melody is repeated several times at increasing speed and energy, then returns to its original state. The last movement shows Balkan influence. The Five Ancient Dances make a good first-half closer or second-half opener, and are of only moderate difficulty.


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 Ben~Amots: "Hashkivenu" Variations (1982)

A string quartet elaboration of a prayer chanted regularly as part of the Jewish Evening service --"Arvit": ..."Cause us, O Lord our God, to lie down in peace, and raise us up again,O our King, unto life. Spread over us Thy tabernacle of peace..." According to the composer, "this tune is typical of the 18th-century Western Sepharadic liturgical style. I heared it for the first time during my studies in Geneva. After a canon-like introduction, the "Hashkivenu" tune is presented in the viola, and then elaborated in variations."


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 Ben~Amots: "I, Jerusalem..." (1982)

The composer writes: "I, Jerusalem..." is a musical personification of the city of Jerusalem. I wrote it in December 1991 during a rainy afternoon after a deeply mysterious experience at the Wailing Wall (Kotel Ma'aravi). As I was standing next to the Wall, I heard a thin, soft, pure, child-like voice coming from above the wall. It was a forgotten chant full of wailing, dveykut (devotion), and longing. I looked all around and above to find where the voice was coming from, but could not see anybody singing. Instead, I saw a small group of rabbis behind me and could clearly recognize by their hand movements that they were debating over some issue. But the voice kept coming, closer and closer - louder and louder. I felt as if the 3000-year-old city herself was singing to me. When I finished my prayer and went to leave the Wall, I passed by the group of rabbis. Only then, did I notice that it was the oldest among them who was singing in this wonderful clear voice. What had seemed at first to be a rabbinical debate was indeed a heart-breaking, weeping Niggun. In this composition for bass clarinet I wanted to grasp that special moment and remarkable sound.


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 Ben~Amots: The Joyce Cycle (1986)

James Joyce's collection of 36 love poems titled Chamber Music has been a source of inspiration to many composers. From these, Ben-Amots has set nine for medium voice and piano (later orchestrated--see below), in a style he characterizes as "neo-romantic" to match the deliberate archaicism of Joyce's language. The songs are meant to be sung as a complete cycle, but these complex and beautiful settings may be performed independently.

Shortly after composing the cycle, Ben-Amots orchestrated it, and he now considers the orchestral version to have priority. Deftly and lightly scored (winds in pairs, no heavy brass), this version sounds strikingly Mahlerian in places.

1. O Sweetheart...

The lover finds solace in love "when friends him fail."

2. My love is in a light attire...

He admires the sight of his love walking through an orchard.

3. My dove my beautiful one...

In language reminiscent of the Song of Songs, he bids her arise.

4. Rain has fallen...

They seek shelter on a rainy day.

5. Sleep Now, O Sleep Now

The lover's "unquiet heart" is calmed with a kiss.

6. It was out by Donnycarney...

A cheerful "folksong," sealed with another kiss.

7. Winds of May...

By the turbulent sea, the loved one has disappeared.

8. I Hear an Army...

Giving way to despair the lover dreams of an army ferociously charging up out of the depths. But...

9. From Dewy dreams...

It was just a dream, after all.

 

Listen to the third movement of this piece (via RealAudio).


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 Ben~Amots: A Letter to Avigdor (1989)

One of this composer's few serial works, with traditional Jewish elements clearly audible nonetheless.


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 Ben~Amots: May the Words (2001)

A brief, touching choral prayer for peace, in Hebrew:

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing before You, O Lord, my Stronghold and my Redeemer. May He who creates peace in His high heavens create peace among us and for all Israel. Amen.


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 Ben~Amots: Midnight Dance (1996)

This is an arrangement for violin and piano, or cello and piano, of the slow movement from Ben~Amots' piano Sonatina. It's a lovely, atmospheric little thing, perfect for an encore or a curtain raiser, and easy enough for students (a couple of artificial harmonics raise the difficulty to about level 4; aside from that there are no problems.)

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 Ben~Amots: Mt. Fuji Ceremonial Fanfare (1996)

The composer writes:

The "Mt. Fuji Ceremonial Fanfare" was written as a commission from the 1996 International Youth Musicale to mark the 30th anniversary of Fuji City, Japan. The music is largely based on an old fanfare of mine, which I arranged for enlarged orchestral winds (4 each of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, and trombones, plus 7 trumpets and 1 tuba) and 4 percussion. The composition was written with traditional fanfares in mind. However, it has an additional, distinctive feature: In the progression of the piece the powerful "marching" character of the fanfare transforms into a more softened "dance". The piece culminates with a sequence of short, majestic signals at the Coda.


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 Ben~Amots: Prophetic Tropes (1989/99)

A stern and dramatic piece for trombone and piano, about 10 minutes in length, featuring declamatory trombone phrases culminating in a fortissimo low D, and extensive piano-interior work.

Listen to part of this piece (via RealAudio).


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 Ben~Amots: Psalm 23 (1990)

Psalm 23 is, of course, "The Lord is My Shepherd"--the best known of all the psalms. This setting for soprano, clarinet and percussion was commissioned by the Israeli singer Yehudit Vollmond and was premiered in May 1990 at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. The elegiac, even funerary, Western tradition surrounding this psalm is here pointedly ignored in favor of an assertive affirmation of faith and confidence--which is what the words actually proclaim.


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 Ben~Amots: Psalm 81 (1989)

Sing aloud unto God our strength,
Raise a shout for Jacob's God!
Take up a song, sound the timbrel,
The pleasant harp with psaltery!
Sound the trumpet on the new moon,
The new moon of our feast day!
For it is a law of Israel,
a ruling of Jacob's God:
He put a decree upon Joseph, when
He went out through the land of Egypt;
Language I heard that I knew not:

The Hebrew setting of this text for mixed chorus and 2 percussion is one of Ofer Ben~Amots' finest works. Highly rhythmic, with constantly shifting meters at high speed, it presents a startling blend of excitement and mystery that this composer has made uniquely his own. He states: "The original Psalm 81 is attributed to Asaf, the biblical director of choirs at the Holy temple in Jerusalem over 3000 years ago. This setting accentuates the unusual, irregular rhythm of biblical Hebrew (with poetic meters of 9, 11, 13, 15, etc.). Its large ABCBA 'return' form is based on the text. The adagio part (C) reflect the apocalyptic phrase 'I heard a language I knew not' with its mystical aspects."

Listen to part of this piece (via RealAudio).


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 Ben~Amots: Shtetl Songs (1985-6)

A set of stylish and substantial modern settings of traditional Yiddish folk songs. A vanished culture is brought vividly to life with a startling variety of viewpoints and attitudes.

1. Bay dem shtetl

By the village stands a cottage where we have been living a long time. Daddy works and works to buy us pretty things...

2. Bistu mit mir broygez?

Why are you mad at me? Maybe you want to know if I love you. Let's travel to see the Rabbi and get him to bless us, so we'll be good people from now on.

3. Klip klap

Tap, tap: Let me in, my love! ~~I will not let you in. You must sleep outside in the rain.

4. Roiz, roiz

Why is God so distant? Why is exile so long?

5. Di dray neytorns

I sew and sew by day and night, but never my wedding dress. What do I get from my sewing?

6. Dinen

One wants to serve, has to serve, is allowed to serve the Creator of the world.

7. Yedn tog

Sunday potatoes, Monday potatoes, Tuesday and Wednesday potatoes...

8. Kinderyohrn

Childhood days, beautiful young flowers, nevermore will you come back to me. Oh, how quickly I have grown old.

9. Der Rebbe tantst

Shh! Quiet! The Rabbi is about to dance again; and when the Rabbi dances, they tremble in heaven...


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 Ben~Amots: Sonatina (1990)

The title of this piano piece refers to its easygoing tone and modest (9') dimensions. Really, though, it is a suite of character pieces, featuring the composer's characteristic blend of European tradition and Jewish folk materials~~both filtered through a modern Israeli sensibility. Three of the four movements offer affectionate or ironic homage to European models: Bach's preludes, Rimsky's Bumblebee, and Rameau's Tambourin.

1. Praeludium

2. Midnight Dance

3. Yatoosh (Mosquito)

4. Tambourine


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 Ben~Amots: Story No. 2 (1983)

"I look out the chair while eating my pillow. I open the wall. I walk with my ears..."

Story No. 2 for narrator and small orchestra was written as a commission for the 1983 Children's Music Festival in St. Omer, France. Since its inception, the work has been widely performed in French, German and English. The narrative of Story No. 2 is a little known children's story by the great French author and playwright Eugene Ionesco (1912 - 1994).

The story is a typical absurdist comedy with imagery reminiscent of Magritte. In an otherwise stereotypical, middle-class French family, the brusquely businesslike father suddenly decides to reassign new meanings to a host of familiar words: a Telephone is to be called a Cheese, a Cheese is a Music Box, the Music Box is called a Rug and so on, to hilarious effect. He inculcates his daughter Josette with the new linguistic regime, but when she returns home the level-headed maid Jacqueline will have none of it. The impasse is broken by the arrival of Josette's Botticellian mother, whose mere existence is sufficient to "open the wall" between the other characters. As in Peter and the Wolf (an obvious influence), each character has a distinct musical theme and instrumental coloration: Josette's theme is played by the flute, the father is represented by the trumpet and trombone, the pretty mother by the oboe and Jacqueline by the xylophone and piano.


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 Ben~Amots: Why So Downcast, My Soul (1988)

A serene, Hebrew setting of part of Psalm 42. Simple rhythms and narrow vocal lines make it ideal for student choruses (level 3) and church choirs.


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