Two common themes run through this recording. Two interwoven themes. The one is French, the other Jewish: both are fused to bring about a new reality, the shimmering, variegated, new chapter of a century whose music we believed we had heard under all its forms.

At the beginning is my taste for poems set to music, and the particular intimacy of that repertoire. Deeper still, my latent interest for a culture which both attracts and fascinates me: the Jewish culture kept far too long at arm’s length – at a distance. And then there is Ravel, who set the wheels in motion. His “Two Hebrew Mélodies” represent for me the beginning of an alliance between French mélodie and Jewish culture, at the start of the last century. His work fuelled my desire to assemble a musical program around this double culture. Ravel wasn’t Jewish — so why did he choose to compose an instrumental accompaniment to the Kaddish, a highly symbolic and millenary liturgical text? Was he the only composer of his time to have sought inspiration there? It is these questions that pushed me to constitute this collection. In the course of my research I realized that several of these works, be they unpublished songs written by obscure composers, had never been recorded. I found it crucial to bring to light this musical heritage.

From the rediscovery of a little-known repertoire to the Confluence{s} project 

One of the main reasons of this project was to bring to light works that have perhaps never been interpreted publicly since their creation. Some of the works in the programme are by famous composers such as Ravel, whose Kaddish is so “popular” it now is part of what is called “the repertoire”. A text from the Jewish liturgy set to music by a non-Jewish composer, it exceeds its religious scope and is heard in concert halls.

Most of the works in the program are little-known or unpublished. And yet, behind each one of them there is an author, a slice of life, a story.

when French mélodies and Jewish culture embrace,

is sung in four languages: French, Hebrew, Yiddish and Aramaic.

Confluence{s} has as its central theme non-synagogal concert melodies inspired by Jewish cultures. During my investigations, I became interested in the works of Darius Milhaud, one of the most prolific composers of his generation (443 opuses) who would remain true to his Jewish heritage throughout his life, including in his art. I inventoried his works that were linked with Judaism (more than twenty) and chose a selection that could be integrated into the program. His Opus 179, Deux chants populaires palestiniens, composed in 1937, particularly attracted my attention. However, finding the score of this work turned out to be difficult. To the extent that I could determine, none of Millaud’s own editors had ever published or even left a trace of these hymns. It was eventually from an American publisher, that I procured, the score, in the United States, as it was unavailable for sale in France for copyright reasons. It is part of collection Israeli Folk Music, edited and arranged by Hans Nathan.

Stories within the story

Maurice Ravel

Each work has its own personal journey, its own story. By way of example, here a few songs which reflect the identity of the project.

Musical postcards

Musical Postcard, Gam Hayon

Musical postcard, Holem Tsa’adi

Musical Postcard, Gam Hayon

Musical Postcard, Holem Tsa’adi

Hans Nathan’s research on Jewish folk songs allowed me to become familiar with this repertoire and to discover 20th-century works related to this theme. His work started when he was still a young musicologist living in the Jewish community of Berlin before the rise to power of the Nazi party in 1933. Around this time, the Keren Kayemeth 1 (National Jewish Fund) had distributed, throughout the world, postcards inscribed with folk melodies, in order to promote a national music project. Hans Nathan was put in charge of coordinating this mission. He pursued the project after emigrating to Boston, publishing some of these songs in 1938 and 1939 in the collection Chansons folkloriques de la nouvelle Palestine (Folk Songs of the New Palestine, published by Nigun). After an interruption of forty-five years, due to an intense life of teaching, Hans Nathan returned to his project in retirement in Boston. Thanks to the musicologist Philip V. Bohlman of the University of Chicago, the collection Israeli Folk Music was able to be completed and published, after his death in 1989.

Darius Milhaud        

These melodies come from old Israeli folk songs, created by the Jews of the Diaspora in Russia and Poland. Born in the 1900s decade, and returned back to Palestine, Erezt- Israël, cradle of their culture, they were moved by a desire for liberty. Most of them lived in the kibbutzim as manual laborers. True pioneers of Israel, they invented songs to stimulate their life and their work, insisting on their new-found sense of liberty.
As part of his task for the Keren Kayemeth, Hans Nathan invited different composers of art music to create an accompaniment for these melodies. Besides Darius Milhaud, another great francophone composer was asked to participate in this project: Arthur Honegger, who will be included in the program.

Darius Milhaud’s two Palestinian folksongs and Arthur Honegger’s Ra‘inu Amalenu had an unusual journey: composed more than a century ago by Palestinian workers then transcribed on postcards and distributed throughout Europe, they were harmonised by several great composers of the 20th century and are here recorded for the first time in their original version.

A Breton composer of « Jewish music »

Paul Martineau (Nantes, 1880 – Igny, 1915) is a “musician that has not given rise to much commentary. However, the few lines that are dedicated to him are full of praise. Dead of consumption at 25, in the midst of the war, his name was soon forgotten. Breton by birth and by heart, he lived his two passions, Brittany and music, with the intensity of a man who knew he didn’t have long to live. His works are all posthumous and edited by Ricordi”. He wrote: “It is quite possible that one day I write a Jewish or Far-Eastern piece, in which I would pride myself on having stayed a Breton”.1

Published the same year but with nothing to suggest plagiarizing, both Martineau’s “Four Hebrew Melodies” and Ravel’s “Two Hebrew Mélodies” are composed on an almost identical melodic basis, probably inspired by the same synagogical source.

1 Vefa de Bellaing, Dictionnaire des compositeurs de musique en Bretagne, Centre d’histoire de Bretagne, Kreizenn Istor Breizh, 1992

Through these examples which reflect the identity of the program, Confluence{s} offers a musical and linguistic journey, a medley of folksongs as well as works from the classical and contemporary repertoire. Destined for each and everyone, these non-synagogal songs — notwithstanding the two “Concert Kaddishes” — offer a precious cultural hybridity which conveys an essential part of our History. Each listener will be touched differently by the inventions and the worlds they reveal. All the songs are tied together by the link which binds France and French history to Jewish culture.