Sephardic Suite


Sephardic Suite

for mixed sextet

 

 

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An arrangement based on Sephardic melodies, for Alto Flute, B Clarinet, C Trumpet, Violin, Cello, and Percussion.  The audio file was generated with software as a demo.  It probably will be difficult to get this performed because of the rather non-standard instrumentation, but I can always hope. Initially posted only here, but eventually I will post it on other sites.  Comments welcome.  I can send the score pdf to anyone who wants to see it on request (send me a message via this site.)

Audio file at SoundCloud Sephardic Suite.

Version of 10 January 2023.

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Please note that while this composition is based in part on traditional melodies in the public domain, my adaptations of them are an original creative work under copyright. For performance permission, please see my permissions page.

The melodies are adapted from versions found in Hebräisch-Orientalischer Melodienschatz by A. Z. Idelsohn, 1923.

Image: Thessaloniki Jewish Women Dancing, detail, from an early 20th century postcard

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Replies

  • This is a new revised version of 10 January 2023.

  • Very well done, Jon.

    You've captured that ancient feel. I sometimes adapt tunes from early times and I learn so much by doing that.

    The sound quality is good to. Great feeling for the style.

    • Thanks for the comment, I'm glad you liked it.  Capturing a feel is what much of my music tries to do.

  • Jon, this is very nice, I can hear the ethnic sound in this piece.

    • Thanks, Saul -- I'm glad if I succeeded in bringing acrosss some of the feeling of these melodies.

  • I'm always an easy mark for non-standard instrumental configurations, and this obviously had that going for it - very imaginative!  I thought your soundfonts were all quite convincing as well.  Even though the whole piece had a very engaging aura of ancient tradition, I found that my interest really picked up just around the 4:00 mark, which is obvously where the tempo accelerated and the mood suddenly got a lot livelier. I'm not knolwedgeable about Sephardic musical culture, but it was only at that point in the piece did I get something along the lines of what I was kind of expecting; before that point, the melodic statements were a lot more slow-moving and the dichotomy of soloistic and ensemble passages forced me realize to that I don't understand the context of this kind of music, at least at the point in the proceedings.  But at the 4:00 mark - yes - this totally fit the bill for me. Nice ending as well. 

    • Thanks for listening and for the perceptive comments.  I generally try to vary things both in a piece as a whole and often within sections of it. The melody in the part you refer to is an adaptation of La Rosa Inflorese, one of the most often performed Sephardic songs; I wanted to explore both the slow, Eastern feeling of it, which is the style it is usually sung in, and also bring out a more lively Balkan style interpretation of it, the faster part. 

      Since we're talking of technical matters, I'll note here that this composition, like many of mine, begins with a feature perhaps not specifically Sephardic but characteristic of Middle Eastern music, a taxim, that is, a statement of the modal scale of the piece with a free improvisation on it.  If the piece were ever to get performed, I would offer the clarinetist (or another of the ensemble's instruments could be assigned to this passage) the option of improvising a taxim in the tradtional manner. 

      As for the orchestration, I often feel a conflict between the instrumentation that sounds best and the instrumentation that would make the piece most likely to get performed.  With this piece I started with the more conventional ensemble clainet/violin/alto flute/cello, but then I realized that some pieces cried out for trumpet, probably because some of these melodies, although well attested as Sephardic, retain a Spanish feeling.  Then I decided I really needed some Middle Eastern percussion (note the illustration of Greek Jewish musicians which shows one playing tambourine and another finger cymbals.)  

      • It's very well done and obviously you have a devotion to this idiom. It's also great for listeners like me to get the chance to learn about genres we may not have been exposed to before or know anything about - your explanation of the taxim, for example, makes me realize there is some established convention at play here, which is not surprising (again, just ignorance on my part).

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