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Edith Gerson-Kiwi

Regarding Wolpe's choral songs, you see, we did not have a model at these early times, at the beginning of the 1930s. If you would take some of our Jewish liturgical music--prayers or hymnodic pieces--it would be very near to this type of music. He was not yet aware that early Jewish hymnody is one of the very earliest sources, and the most precious source. Even if you not a believing Jew, you would never recognize this as Jewish. Or, the other way around, everything would become Jewish. And this Mediterranean music is also not very good. There is no real Israeli music. What we discussed at the time was mostly how to get out of major-minor. He was in the process of becoming a new man, a new composer, and this was the result. It was modal music. He discovered the modal scales. He becomes aware of the cadence. The cadential type is not any more this flashing chords near the end. It is something very deep, and it has to be learned and studied and lived by quite a long time. He had to struggle to get the feel of it.

He started with this new type of hymn, not liturgical hymn, a free hymn. This is all his great donation to the renovation of peasants, intellectual peasants. And there is really no continuation after he left. But I am sure this would have been the right thing, maybe if they recognized the very new form and high measure of adaptation for the intellectual peasants. If they really study this earnestly, they would discover something quite unique, especially meant for the peasants, the kibbutnik. It is at the same time simple, like a chorale by Bach. It is really a Bach chorale transferred to the modern world. It was a means of a highly intellectual composer. They are simple, they have to be, because the kibbutnik are not musicians. But they like to sing it. It is especially done for them.

We have to see him also in the frame of socialism. He was a Communist, but a kind of idealistic Communist. He had very much to work on himself to overstep this, to give the right position in the whole of his compositions. He was a socialist and highly idealistic. You will find it in his work. You must not burn it out. It was lebendig living. This is the outcome of his double life, or the intellectual force of the idea. It's impossible not to see, if you see this work. He had always to make a double drive--to go on with his most living ideas and to be the new Wolpe fighting for a new generation of farmers. Would he have thought about writing for farmers, for kibbutznik here? So this is a testimonial of his faith on the one side, and of the new men, newly born here in the country on the other side. And he wanted to give something of himself.

It was high times for discussions of Arabic music. He was interested in the intonation. How could we do this? We had not the means or instruments to produce this. One of my successes was that I went in 1936-7 to the director of the Conservatoire, Emil Hauser, and asked where are our Arab teachers? We are all playing Mozart and Schumann, but we do not know the Arab music, and we are living here. He said, "You are right." I brought him two fantastic gentlemen, great artists, the very best artists of the whole of the region here [one was Ezra Aharon]. Emil Hauser from Budapest succeeded to bring in a special department for Arabic music, and we all took lessons.

Arab rhythm is very different from what we call rhythm in music. For the Arab musician there is a clear distinction between rhythm and melody. Melody can exist without rhythm, a row of tones without any rhythmical connection. You have to take another box where you find some samples, or models of rhythmic deviations. There is a melodic maqam and a rhythmic maqam. Melodic maqam was better known than rhythmical maqam. If you start to perform a classical piece, you have to give the whole state of the melody, all the steps, after you have taken yourself in the melodic model, now you have the rhythmic model. These are called iqac. You have to superimpose the rhythmical model on the melodic model. To do this you need ten to fifteen years of exercises.

Wolpe was very sensitive, you did not need to tell him. He felt it [the Arab music] immediately. He was a child of his time. How it got together, he couldn't tell you, but he felt the intensity of the style. They have no polyphony, but instead of polyphony they have the rhythmical maqam. He picked out what he needed.

Born in Berlin, musicologist Edith Gerson-Kiwi (1918-1992) studied piano, harpsichord, musicology, and librarianship in Germany, France, and Italy until 1934. In 1935 she immigrated to Palestine to teach music history. She taught at the Music Teachers College, Hebrew University, and Tel-Aviv University, and founded the Museum of Musical Instruments at the Rubin Academy of Music, Jerusalem. Interview: AC, Jerusalem, 25 April 1985.


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