Judaic Treasures of the
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 upward!
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?"