Jewish poem

Among late symphonic oeuvre of Pancho Vladigerov, A Jewish Poem stands out as one of his most dramatic and emotionally impactful works. This Opus 47 derives from the ancient Jewish melody of the Kaddish prayer, which was often sang by the composer’s grandfather, Leon Pasternak, a descendant of Russian Jews. He had remembered it from his parents and wished to pass it down to the next generations. Vladigerov’s mother encouraged him to use the melody to “create an immortal music work for the glory of his fatherland, Bulgaria, and dedicate it to [her] miserable people.” One of the reasons for the composer to return to Bulgaria in 1932, was the situation in Germany in the aftermath of the Great Depression and the growing public influence of the National Socialists. Antisemitism attracted a growing following and, before immigrating to the US, Max Reinhardt invited Vladigerov to depart with him. Thus, Berlin’s artistic milieu ultimately collapsed and the composer left the country where he had lived for 20 years. Vladigerov’s name was entered into the so-called The Yellow Book, published by the National Socialist Party in Germany under the title Index of Jewish Personalities in Music. In 1942, the book was exhibited publicly on the window of the German bookstore in Sofia, opened exactly on the page showing his name among other proscribed authors, while a Sofia newspaper published a lampoon caricature, with caption below it reading: “Pancho Vladigerov: A descendant of Judas playing an Abyssinian violin.” Abiding in spiritual unity with his Jewish roots, Vladigerov had always retained a profoundly Bulgarian national consciousness. Poet Nikolay Liliev would say about him: “Always inspired, always certain of what he writes; having both of his feet firm on ground he loves and most rapturously glorifies, Vladigerov transforms into music everything he touches.” Even in his Jewish Poem, where one can find other Jewish melodic motifs, he has combined the Bulgarian musical flavour with a musical idiom of his own. In the summer of 1951, the composer saw himself in a dream conducting an orchestral piece composed to the Kaddish theme. This “omen” served to engrave the music into his consciousness. Deeply excited, he wrote the work within several months (the piano version was completed on 9 September 1951, the orchestration – on 13 December). The dedication in the score reads, “To the memory of my grandfather Leon Pasternak,” with a title Meditation hebraique. Evgeni Pavlov, Vladigerov’s biographer, has another interesting story to relate. Having played through his new work for his pupils Konstantin Iliev and Lazar Nikolov, they were delighted but did not approve of the title. Iliev suggested that the piece be entitle A Poem. The composer agreed at once and with his small bookbinder’s knife scratched off the ink-written word ‘meditation’ and wrote ‘poeme’ in its place – and thus the piece became A Jewish Poem. The premiere took place on 24 June 1952 at the Bulgaria Hall with the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Sasha Popov. And it was evaluated as one of Pancho Vladigerov’s most sublime and profound works dedicated to the suffering of the Jews during the Second World War. For the Jewish Poem, Vladigerov was awarded in 1952 for the second time the Dimitrov Prize (Second class) for merit.

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