Paul Ben -Haim, who was born in Munich in 1897 as Paul Frankenburger and died almost 90 years later in Tel Aviv, remains a great unknown to many music lovers. This is a great pity, because the oeuvre of this sadly forgotten composer is very diverse and most exciting. At one time he was totally immersed in the German Romantic tradition before he almost radically broke with it when he left his native country in 1933.
He began his new life composers life in what was then known as the British Mandate of Palestine by changing his name, after which he also adapted his compositions to his new homeland. Starting in 1933, most of his works were influenced and inspired by Jewish, Israeli and Arabic melodies.
Between 1939 and 1949 Ben-Haim accompanied the at that time extremely famous folk singer Bracha Zefira. Zefira, who was of Yemeni origin, had a great influence on the musical life in what was then Palestine. It was for her that he composed the Berceuse Sfaradite, a song which had become one of her greatest successes.
The Violin Concerto, which dates from 1950, is probably Ben-Haim’s best-known composition, in no small part as a result of the great recording by Itzhak Perlman. The CD is still on the market, I believe, but as far as I know the Concerto is only rarely performed. Why?
Three Studies for Solo Violin is Ben-Haim’s last violin composition, dedicated to Yehudi Menuhin in 1981. Splendid. But I was most struck by the completely unknown Evocation from 1942, a work which has its premiere here and which really gave me goose bumps. Wow.
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