(1874 - 1951)
Brooklyn-born Aaron Copland (1900-1990), did more than
any other composer to introduce the American musical idiom into classical
music, jazz in Piano Concerto (1927), Western tunes in Billy
the Kid (1938) and Rodeo (1942), folk airs in Appalachian
Spring (1944), and Latin rhythms in El Salon Mexico (1937)
and Danzon Cubano (1942), He did the same with a popular East
European Jewish theme in his Vitebsk (1929).
The composer describes
this composition as: "Vitebsk, study on a Jewish melody for violin,
cello and piano . . ." The playwright Ansky used this melody in The
Dybbuk, transcribing it as it was sung in his native village
Aaron Copland, Vitebsk, 1929. Music Division.
On the first page of Copland's work sheets, he talks
about using the tune "mipne ma" as it was sung in Vitebska, where the
famous playwright Ansky was born, and which Ansky included as a melody
in his play The Dybbuk. The play's Hebrew version (translated
by the famous Hebrew poet, Hayyim
Nahman Bialik) was performed in 1927 by the brilliant Habimah Theater
of Moscow to audiences in New York, where Copland must have seen it.
Its insistent melodic theme, "mipne ma?" -- for what reason?inquires,
Why? O why? / Has the soul descended from on high?
Descent from on high, / demands that man must ever try / to rise
In the course of the drama, the melody evinces many
moods, yearning, compassion, command, the sigh of despair vying with
the cry of exultation, but through it all that echoing question, "Why?"
Sources:Abraham J. Karp, From
the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress,
(DC: Library of Congress, 1991).