Top Five Passover Pieces

Thursday, April 21, 2011

a Passover sedar a Passover sedar (shoshanah/flickr)

Though they’re celebrated around the same time of year, Passover falls a little short of Easter with the number of musical offerings dedicated to the holiday. As New York holds the premiere of a new work honoring Passover, we look at the works that document the Exodus, the Passover Seder and other Jewish traditions at this time of year. Here our the Top 5 @ 105 Passover works of classical music.

1. Arnold Schoenberg’s opera Moses und Aron is one of the most famous and influential works documenting the Exodus, known for its musical innovation rather than its religious underpinnings. Not bad for an opera that remains unfinished. Though the operas Parsifal and Easter have become associated with a holiday, Moses und Aron has yet to become a Passover staple.

2. On April 21, the American Symphony Orchestra, Collegiate Choral Singer and Brooklyn Youth Chorus presented the U.S. premiere of Paul Dessau’s Haggadah shel Pesach. Dessau, a German Jew, wrote the work while living in exile in Paris. It echoes a traditional Passover Seder during which the Haggadah is read.

3. One of the better-known Passover works is Erich Korngold’s Passover Psalm. Korngold had been keeping one foot in Los Angeles and the other in Vienna for much of the 1930s, but he left Austria permanently after the Anschluss. The Passover Psalm, his 1941 piece for chorus, soprano and orchestra, is heavily influenced by the cinematic scores he was churning out for Hollywood studios at the time.

4. Like Korngold, Jewish composer Ernst Toch emigrated from Austria to Los Angeles in the lead up to World War II. As he left, Toch felt akin to Jews who endured the Exodus from Egypt. These travails inspired his 1938 work Cantata for Bitter Herbs, the Maror eaten during a Seder to signify the bitterness of slavery in Egypt. A local rabbi, Jacob Sonderling, wrote the cantata’s lyrics based on the Haggadah. 

5. So what if Handel wasn’t Jewish? His oratorio, Israel in Egypt, tells the story of Exodus. The first part describes the horrors of slavery the Jews suffered and the second is essentially an ode to Moses. Israel in Egypt could provide an alternative to Handel's glorious but rather ubiquitous Messiah at this time of year.

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Comments [1]

Michael Meltzer

No need to choose between Israel in Egypt and the Messiah, most choral singers would happily do the two in tandem, with a water-fountain break.
If audiences can sit through hour after hour of Wagner, 3 hours and 40 minutes of Handel shouldn't be too hard to take!

Apr. 23 2011 12:31 AM

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