Marc Lavry, Research Paper by Professor Oded Zehavi

Prof. Oded ZehaviProfessor Oded Zehavi

Marc Lavry

In the complex mosaic of the history of Israeli music, there is a special place for Marc Lavry. During the years he lived in Israel (1935-1967), Lavry was one of the most prolific composers; he wrote the first Hebrew opera in Israel and his works were performed by the best performing bodies in Israel and around the world. The story of his life and work is to a large extent the story of a generation of Jewish creators and musicians in one of the most turbulent and formative periods in the history of the Jewish people, which so far has not been researched in any great depth.

Lavry was born in 1903, the year in which Bialik and Ravnitzky began to compile their creation, The Book of Legends, in which they collated treasures of Jewish wisdom from all generations. Lavry too, although he was neither a musicologist nor an ethnographer, frequently took on the identity of a seemingly folklore gatherer, of the observing creator. His music reveals a composer blessed with a deep understanding and an extensive knowledge of music and, in contrast with other musicians, he did not tie himself up in stylish knots, or fixed ideologies. He understood “the music of the people” in whose vicinity he lived, worked and created, not from the point of view of a researcher or external viewer, but as someone who listens to and shares his best with his people.

His Life

Lavry was born in Riga on December 22nd, 1903 under the name Marc Levin. In a short autobiographical document, which he penned at the request of the musicologist Moshe Gorali in 1946, Lavry stated that his family was well-to-do, that his interest in music had begun at a very early age, and that music was not foreign to the home of his childhood. His mother had graduated from music school and played the piano, and his brother and two sisters had also learned music. It was only natural that Lavry would turn to music too; he began learning to play the piano at an early age and at the age of nine had already written short compositions for the instrument. At the age of 12, he formed an orchestra at his school, wrote compositions for it, and was its “music director”.

The piano remained an important part in Lavry’s world of music, even when he became a composer and busy professional conductor. Hans Schmidt, who had been his piano teacher at the Riga Conservatory of Music, found him to be particularly talented. When Lavry, at the age of just 15, completed his high school studies, Schmidt recommended that the young musician go on to take advanced studies in Leipzig, which at that time was an important center of music. But his parents were not in favor of the idea of choosing music as a profession and gave their consent to music studies only on condition that the young Lavry acquire a higher academic education in a practical and “honorable” profession. Lavry obeyed; he left Latvia and travelled to Germany where he studied architecture at the Technical College in Oldenburg and where, in addition to his studies, he organized and conducted a student orchestra.

Any examination of the musical activity of the young Lavry reveals a number of characteristics that were to appear again and again throughout his professional life. What is most distinctive among them was his ability to initiate and organize a functioning environment of musical endeavor and create within it. His skill in forming an orchestra, even in an environment where one would not expect to find one, such as a high school or a university without a music faculty, clearly demonstrated the young musician’s talent in this regard. This may have arisen from a sense that since music was not “an honorable profession,” as his parents had argued, he experienced a gap between the “serious studies” of the profession of architecture, and the “enrichment” or maybe even the “hobby status” of studying piano and composition. Either way, it freed Lavry from the weight of academic gravitas, or perhaps even from a commitment to the established order that might have adhered to his works.

On completion of his architectural studies, Lavry turned to music studies at the Conservatory of Music and Theater in Leipzig. While studying there, he changed his name from Marc Levin to Marc Lavry since at that time there was a senior composer by name of Marc Levin at that institution. At the Conservatory, Lavry studied piano with Professor Teichmüller (Robert Teichmüller, 1863-1939), widely considered one of the leading pedagogues of the time, and an exceptional teacher in his approach to music; Teichmüller, who had been a pupil of the composer Carl Reinecke, also engaged in research and theory, and was one of the editors of the annotated edition of Max Reger’s piano works. In 1927, Teichmüller published an extensive study on the topic of modern international music for piano.

Lavry’s main composition teacher was Paul Graener (Paul Graener, 1827-1939), an outstanding figure in the academical music establishment: he was an autodidact who had studied briefly in London and worked there for a certain period as a composer and musician in theaters and also traveled throughout Europe. From an esthetic point of view, the music of Graener was deeply entrenched in the Late Romantic Period which can be identified with composers such as Richard Strauss and Max Reger, whose position he inherited at Leipzig University, and whose path he would continue at that institution.

In those years Lavry also studied conducting outside of the Academy with the conductor Hermann Scherchen. Scherchen was an unusual choice; true, Scherchen did have a Riga-related “past” (he had conducted there between 1914 and 1916 before moving to Leipzig), but he was also among the conductors with a distinct tendency to perform and promote contemporary music. Scherchen had been one of the first to perform the Arnold Schoenberg work Pierrot lunaire, and thereafter consistently promoted ideas and modern music in Germany and later in Switzerland as well. The combination of Teichmüller, Graener and Scherchen instilled in Lavry an education with the added value of curiosity (Scherchen), rebelliousness (Graener) and inquisitiveness (Teichmüller). After completing his studies in Leipzig, Lavry’s conducting career began when he took up the position of conductor at the Saarbrücken Opera House, where he acquired considerable experience in conducting operas and ballets. He also toured in frequent guest performances in the Rhine Valley and began to acquire a name for himself as a promising and proficient conductor. After two seasons with Saarbrücken, Lavry moved to Berlin at the invitation of Rudolf von Laban (1879-1958), one of the most important modern dance creators in Europe in the early twentieth century, to serve as conductor and music director of his ballet company.

Up to this point, Lavry’s professional life had moved along a track that was similar to many of the composers among the founding generation of Israeli music. Like Paul Ben-Haim (who had studied with Ludwig Twila), in terms of his formal education Lavry had been immersed in the romantic compositional traditions of the end of the nineteenth century, with distinct Regerian influences. Like Ben-Haim, Partush, and many others, his career began in a wide-ranging array of music practice: playing and mainly conducting, as one would expect of the resident conductor of a German opera house. From this point onwards, Lavry’s life underwent an interesting transformation – for four years (1925-1929), he worked with Laban and his dance group as the latter’s conductor, composer, arranger and music instructor. Working with Laban, whose choreography combined a stylistic boldness and a well-developed commercial awareness, Lavry was exposed to points of intersection that would only many years later achieve recognition and perhaps even interest among the members of the “classical guild” between popular culture and high art. Laban and his dance company toured frequently, not only within Germany, but worldwide. As a result, Lavry had opportunity to perform in Italy, Austria, France, the Balkan States, and even Egypt.

During the years he worked in Berlin (1926-1933), Lavry composed many works for ballet, theater and film. He composed ballets of different lengths for Laban one of which, Taras Bulba, based on Nikolai Gogol’s book, extended over an entire evening. He composed music for Max Reinhardt’s Theater, and served as composer and music director of several films. He worked for Universal Pictures, collaborated with the well-known producer Joe Pasternak, and even composed music for a film of renowned director Otto Preminger.

It is interesting to note that Lavry perceived the practical-professional aspect of the composer’s work as being no less important than the artistic-creative aspect. He brought his best to every score he wrote and did this while taking into account the deadlines for delivery, the abilities and range of the ensembles and audience tastes. He was known for his ability to write music according to given guidelines in terms of genre and duration, and was responsive to the requests of his creative partners. Concurrently, Lavry also took advantage of the fact that Berlin in those years was a center of music of the highest order. He taught at the Stern Conservatory, one of the most important schools in the city, and studied conducting with Bruno Walter and composition with Alexander Glazunov, who lived in Berlin at the time.

In 1929, at the age of 26, Lavry was invited to become the conductor and music director of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, a position he held until Hitler came to power.

In April 1933, after losing his position in Berlin because of Nazism, Lavry returned to Riga. He found fertile professional ground there and a demand for his work, but he also felt how Fascism was gradually casting its shadow over the lives of the Jews there. In 1934, the Fascists came into power in Latvia. Lavry, who held a position of honor in Riga, was aided by his connections and assisted in the release of Jewish detainees. Despite his standing, he was banned from directing the local opera and went on to conduct at the Yiddish Theater. Before his departure from Riga, he wrote a work which he named The Eternal Jew, and which helped him connect to his roots. Lavry was not a committed Zionist, but from his earliest childhood he was connected to his Jewishness; he remembered the prayers and Hassidic melodies that his father would sing at home, and one can find traces of them in the roles of the Hassidim in the opera “Dan The Guard” (1949), and in implied references in the oratorio “Holy Work” (1955). While Lavry was a student in Oldenburg, he had been a member of the Jewish Students Union, and even represented it in wrestling competitions against other unions. Lavry’s original intention was to emigrate to Russia or America, but since many of his childhood friends immigrated to Israel for Zionist motives, he and his wife Helena, whom he had married a few months previously, decided to visit Israel as tourists; “they took a peek, and were hooked”. In 1937, Lavry returned to Riga for the funeral of his father. He was aware of the dangers lurking for Jews in European countries and in Russia and begged his family to leave Riga. They refused and most of them perished in the Holocaust.

In a short biographical article that Lavry sent to Gorali in 1946, he wrote: “The Land of Israel was a real homeland for me – a spiritual homeland. I immigrated to the country in 1935, and already in 1936, I wrote “Song of the Valley”. Nowhere else, and at no other time, did I encounter material and mental difficulties such as those with which I had to struggle in Israel, but in no other place prior to Eretz Israel had I felt so grounded. I had a sense of being in my true place – of being in a place worth fighting for”.

About Lavry’s Music

Stylistic Characteristics
Lavry’s music is a direct music that creates a strong descriptive associative feeling. An image emerges from his scores of an impressive melodist and a gifted orchestrator of immense ingenuity, who gives his listeners an easily-receptive and enjoyable listening experience, and whose idiomatic writing rewards his performers. Listening to Lavry does not demand counterpoint alertness in his listeners; the main melodic voices are very clear and the tightness of the motif, which often draws on open sequences and clear-cut repetitions, allows the listener to follow the ever-changing musical structures. At the same time, a sense of rhapsodic spontaneity, as characterized in frequent transitions between different moods, and all demarcated within the boundaries of Lavry’s open composition language, demands maximum concentration of the listener, but also facilities his identification with the various musical worlds. Dichotomy is not commonplace in Lavry’s music. There are rare cases of a theme and an anti-theme being found in his work. In many of them the composer offers diversity and mood swings between primary and secondary themes.

Lavry’s orchestration characteristics are significant: his scores are full of musical moments that have beautiful expression in woodwind instruments; his writing for the flute, clarinet and at times the oboe too, for the bassoon and the French Horn, become recognizable elements that appear in most of his orchestral works and in his concertos. Lavry’s use of the orchestra ranges between hinted impressionistic colors (mainly because of the presence of the harp and the way in which it is used) and between Russian expressionistic characteristics from the school of Shostakovich (who also studied with Glazunov) and Rimsky-Korsakov. Lavry’s orchestration is always saturated with expression, feeling and ambience. The pastoral flute and the oboe, the echoing French horn and the multi-faceted clarinet are used not to create color, but actually become an entity in their own right. So, for example, in his Concerto for Harp, when the decisive sound of the oboe responds to the gentleness of the solo instruments, the contrast in the character of the sound is used as an expressive statement and not merely for purposes of “melody”.

One can easily identify Lavry’s full orchestral sound (tutti): it is characterized by a strong woodwind presence with the massive support of the percussion instruments. From the viewpoint of a contemporary musician, I feel that this element in his work is still awaiting a less tempestuous performance by the brass wind instruments and a more refined performance of the percussion instruments. The tradition of performing in the period after Shostakovich, evident in the rhythmic ostinato of the snare drum and the bass drums, is the basis for the development of dynamic movements that do not necessarily reach a crescendo. If Lavry’s orchestral pieces were to be interpreted in a way that in our era is reserved for performing the works of Mahler and Shostakovich, it would be possible, in my opinion, to discern in these works a potential that is not expressed in the premiere performance and in existing recordings. Lavry’s writing for percussion instruments in his orchestral works is characterized by relatively heavy use of the low range. This may reflect a realistic perception of the melody and ability of Israeli orchestras for which he wrote, as it is functional and very clear. In some of his works the orchestra includes a harp, which receives special and interesting roles.
In harmonic terms, Lavry’s music ranges from moderate modeling in the spirit of late nineteenth century Russian orientalism and between the expansion of functional tonality. It functions in the framework of a clear extended scale and even in his relatively later works, it preserves a spirit of tonal uniformity.

Writing for solo instruments: In Lavry’s concerto, we encounter skilled and impressive writing for solo instruments; his Concerto for Flute presents a variety of sound characteristics ranging from orientalist motifs to jazz-like tones. His Concerto for Viola enables the soloist to show off rhythmic and dramatic lyrical aspects of the instrument in orchestration that is neither restrained nor onerous. His piano concertos showcase the diverse ‘pianomanship’ hallowed in the virtuoso notion of the late nineteenth century. They all contain a clear structural mix of structured and organized movements, lyrical and rhapsodic secondary movements, and third movements that are often humoristic, with virtuoso and humorous use being made of them in popular Israeli songs well-known to listeners of that era. In his first Concerto for Piano, for example, the third movement is based on the song The Taste of Haman whose Persian folk melody he heard from the singer Bracha Tzafira. In his Concerto for Viola, the third movement is based on the children’s song Here Comes the Orchestra (a song that Lavry himself composed to lyrics by Ya’akov David Kamzon).

In terms of structure, Lavry makes wide use of repetitive ostinato patterns, using them to create both dynamic processes (mainly of amplification) and for structural transition areas (bridges) between themes. In many of Lavry’s opening episodes one finds extensive use of sequences and clear mention of motifs that the listener is able to identify.
Lavry and the human voice: Lavry wrote abundantly for voice and his vocal music includes harmonic rhythmic characteristics identified with folk poetry coupled with vocal and range requirements whose roots are to be found in the Eastern European art song of the late nineteenth century. Seemingly simple songs such as My Boat (lyrics by Assaf Halevi), You, My Homeland (lyrics by Leah Goldberg) and even Shepherds’ Song (lyrics by Raphael Eliaz) demand a broad vocal and sound range. In the piano version of these songs as well one can sense Lavry’s orchestration, and indeed almost all his songs did receive his superb orchestration. Performers in the 1940s and 1950s, such as Yosefa Schocken and Netanya Dovrat carried out a very successful dialog with the unique stylistic mix in Lavry’s songs in both their piano and orchestral versions.

Analysis of Selected Works

On the Concerto for Viola and Orchestra
This concerto, written in 1953, was performed and recorded in 1964 by the Voice of Israel Broadcasting Service’s Symphony Orchestra under George Singer with viola player Abraham Bornstein as soloist. The Concerto has three movements: Allegro, Andante and Allegro Moderato. The first theme is comprised of two parts of different lengths: the first extends over six bars and is characterized by a rhythmic pattern that forms the basis for sequential development. The nature of the second theme is more lyrical – it consists of seven quarters spread over a bar and a half and is played by the oboe. The first orchestral statement expands the rhythmic pattern which continues to open through to the end of the exposition. The response of the soloist ascends clearly from the second part of the exposition, allowing the viola to express its lyrical-melodic abilities. The theme’s duality gives rise to the dramatic strength of this movement, which focuses less on the relationship between the soloist and the orchestra (as common in classical concertos) and more on the “right” of the lyrical melody to gain a proper place of expression within the motoric passion surrounding it.

As his ideological-compositional mission, Lavry attempted to reflect in his music the face of the place in which he lived and its spirit. In my view, he may have succeeded in doing so more than is apparent to the eye because, if we let go of the assumption (which implies no small amount of condescension), that all of Lavry’s reflection was expressed in allusions to local melodies and through “addiction” to the beat of the Hora and the Debka, we discover – for example, that the issue of the contemplative individual or (if we expand this thought) the right to contemplate more and be less decisive even while going through the survival mechanisms of life in Israel, emerges clearly from the first movement of this concerto. It is possible to assume (also from writings of creators of that era (among them Natan Shaham, S. Izhar and Natan Alterman) that this issue was an issue of major concern to that generation in Israel. The fact that there are emotional melodic arrival points [such as the one that appears three bars before the letter C in the score] that are almost always interrupted by the rhythmic “purpose,” prevents the composer and his performers from sliding into sentimentality and highlights the melodic lines that resonate in the movement.

The second theme in the movement under discussion is in the Meno mosso – the change in tempo – from which the lyrical bar that appeared in the first exposition develops. Lavry here creates a sense of structural tension which contributes to the associative sense that pervades the entire movement and allows the composer to keep his listeners attentive. The orchestra responds to the lyrical themes the viola plays, and creates an orchestral zenith following which a beautiful dialog develops between it and the flute. In listening to this dialog, Lavry’s impressive orchestration ability is again evident. The high pitch of the flute and the flexible role it plays in this part of the movement highlight within the resulting dialog the deep sound of the viola and the slower and more serious role given to it. In taking a broader picture of the movement, one could say that the dialog between the solo viola and the woodwind instruments constitutes a prominent structural element in the work. Thus, for example, in the first response of the viola [four bars after the letter A in the score], when the flute, the oboe, the clarinets and the bassoon respond to the viola’s opening statement, each of them allows the listener to relate in a different way to the sound of the solo string instruments, where the meeting points with the clarinet and the bassoons create a musical range giving a sense of arrival and tonal completion. Later in the movement [in the part that commences fourteen bars after the letter F, the flutes and the oboe take the melodic lead as if they were continuing the very high note reached by the viola. At the very highpoint of the movement, and at one of its most beautiful moments [marked with the letter F], a gentle dialog develops between the viola and the first flute followed by the oboe. This dialog allows the soloist to demonstrate his talent as an accompanist, precisely after a busy orchestral moment. Also, the dialog between the clarinet and the flute [twelve bars before the letter G] serves not only as a transition to the last part of the movement (the repeat, which contains repetition on musical materials from the exposition) but as a moment of a “different” display of sound, that is not manifestly the sound of a viola. For a moment, the work turns from a concerto into a symphony – the soloist falls silent and listens (in a way that gives rise to the thought that the dialog that develops between the first flute and the clarinets, and between the clarinets and the string instruments is in fact Ars Poetica. At the letter G, the composition of the participants in the dialog changes and it includes the viola conversing with the lower-range orchestral instruments: the cello, the double bass and the second bassoon. The movement ends in spirited exchanges between the viola and the “Emek Orchestra” replete with brass wind instruments and percussion. The falling away of the woodwind instruments and the taking up of the collective place in more decisive tones is interrupted twenty six bars before the end of the work in an episode of a short dialog of the two flutes together with the viola in the high range, in such a way as to allow the woodwinds to make themselves even more present towards the heroic ending. The structure of the first movement is clear, the first theme which has a sequential nature is built around a distinct rhythmic pattern presented by the orchestra and answered by the viola in a lyrical line that becomes more dramatic and expressive as the movement develops.

The rhapsodic second movement starts with an episode of the woodwinds: the oboe, the clarinets and the bassoon present a melancholic theme whose development is cut off sooner than expected because of the thickening counterpoint that takes over the theme. This theme perhaps suggests great pastoral peacefulness, but the distress, the heaviness, the sound of the horn are always just around the corner and ready to rush in prematurely, so that we should not, perish the thought, enjoy a sentimentality that does not reflect reality. In terms of the tonal element that is so important in the works of Lavry, one can feel how the oboe, the bassoon and, to a lesser extent, the clarinet too, allow the viola to sound its warm and vibrating note. The choice of an instrument with a limited vibrato such as the oboe to open the movement clearly expresses the intent of the composer. One could, for purpose of the discussion, call the tone and the theme that opens the movement the “Jewish” theme; the chromaticity and elegance of the viola create a feeling of an Eastern European world which may perhaps echo repressed longing. The flute and the harp accompany the appearance of the second modal theme of the movement. The repeating dialog in this movement between the flute and the viola create a clear tonal connection between the first and the second movement of the concerto. The “Jewish” motif returns at the letter A, but this time the viola is answered by two clarinets and the French horn, whose tone is close to that of the viola. The theme is further advanced by the flute, the harp and the percussion instruments, which join the viola that has switched from melodic leader to accompanist. With the threatening rolling of the drums, accompanied by the horns and the trumpets, the “Emek Orchestra” returns to the movement, while the lyrical voice of the viola emanates from it in a long, high-pitched sound that is the pinnacle of the movement which ends in a morendo – a slow fading away.

If the first movement is Israeli in its character, and the second movement harks back to more distant roots, it is interesting to consider the third movement, the rondo movement, which is based on a children’s song. If my hypothesis is correct that this work that can be deciphered as an Ars Poetica work, this children’s song has a clear significance: the innocence, the clarity, the absence of conflict that gives a snapshot of the orchestra as a parade orchestra making its way through the city and as a functional orchestra, whose role is to entertain and delight, could reflect the slight irony of Lavry the symphonic composer and Lavry the entertainer, composer of children’s songs, who brings his “Toy Symphony” to the playing field of the “big guys”. Lavry had the courage to do this since he understood that the seamlines between the artist and the entertainer are far thinner than expected, and he does so unapologetically. The entire orchestra, “drum, flute and cymbals” marches in this movement, which is developed in the best rondo tradition and provides Lavry and his audience with some sophisticated and enjoyable entertainment. An Ars Poetica reading of the score of this concerto beautifully illustrates how loyal Lavry was to his promise to play and reflect in his music the sounds and the spirit of the country in which he lived.

Similar findings arise from reading the score of The Fourth Symphony, which was written in Israel in 1957. The work is written for an expanded symphony ensemble (which also includes a bass clarinet, six horns, three trombones, a tuba, harp, and celesta, and many percussion instruments). In this work, Lavry composes in extensive symphonic form, giving it structure and content that is both special and personal. The score, a “typical” Lavry output, well reflects its compositional advantages – unique use of the orchestra, the ability to create a complex system of musical associations supported by a limited number of motifs and, above all else, a clear and unique emotional message, harnessing all his musical means and skills in order to convey the emotional artistic message. The first movement of the symphony opens with a chorale of the extended horn section. Throughout the work, the brass wind instruments have an important structural role, and their tone is interwoven at key points in its three movements. After the opening chorale on the horns, the flute, oboe and bassoon come in and join into the background that now also includes the percussion instruments (in their low range), for a concurrent line that has qualities that are perhaps pastoral (especially when it comes to the roles played by the woodwinds), perhaps bring stimulating expressiveness (through the tones of the horns and their role) and enigmatic (as evident in the role of the percussion instruments). Again, I think it necessary to consider that Lavry saw himself as a composer who reflects the reality of the life and environment in which he lives; one can undoubtedly sense in the multi-dimensional reality presented in the opening bars that this is also an important historical-sociological utterance. A repetitive pattern (ostinato), possibly threatening, possibly rhythmically decisive, evokes two more solo passages, this time of the flute in its low range and of the English horn. The percussion instruments are answered on a theme played in a low range [at letter B] in the score, where above the stubborn ostinato of the percussion instruments and the flutes a “conversation” develops between the English horn, the clarinet and the flute – a conversation that creates a meeting point between an almost utopian pastorality and a “realistic” determination with an essential flow forward. The feeling arising from the score is that the repetitive rhythmic patterns (ostinato) are not only used by Lavry for esthetic purposes, but also as a statement of “necessity” to describe a process that is at times external to the personal voice of the individual, a process that is more than background to what is occurring and, as such, it breaks into consciousness. Twenty bars after the letter B, the English horn presents the materials from which the main melodic theme of the movement will later develop. Lavry is deceiving his listeners: nine pages of the score and three long minutes as of the beginning of the work, create an expectation that a broad and “rewarding” theme is about to erupt. There is no doubt that this expectation does not at all materialize and, after the thematic fragment (which contains a certain klezmer element with an orchestral “pinch” resulting from its being placed in the hands of the English horn and not in the hands of the clarinet as one would expect), the atmosphere fades and the bass clarinet, against the background of another chorale by the French horns [at letter D] brings to the work a darkness that is somewhat reminiscent of the symphonies of Shostakovich. Only in the measure marked with the letter E, does the tentative theme crystallize into a melody having an “Israeli” identity, presented by the percussion instruments. Later on, in what can be defined as “typical Lavry”, the theme undergoes orchestral transformations; it is presented by the horns at the letter F and in full and broad orchestration (at letter G), and each time creates a different esthetic and expressive statement. In its first full appearance, the theme is suddenly emptied (orchestrally), in a way that casts doubt on the validity of this point of arrival. Later, it is possible to hear duality between the light character of the theme and its heavy orchestration. This contrast, which at first is somewhat puzzling, becomes clear later on; between the letters G and E, we gain the clarity of how lightness can become gloom, and how a theme that is mostly bubbly can become oppressive. The contemplative passages planted between the orchestral presentations of the theme and its derivatives strengthen the dichotomous essence of the movement as is the case in many of Lavry’s works. This work also awaits, and all the more so in its first movement, a performance that will reveal the special expressive aspects of this orchestration. An almost apocalyptic division (which begins four bars before the letter H) played by the brass wind instruments, creates a sense of sound whose domination almost brings it to distortion, and to an overt and exposed emotional crash. In this movement, the clear nod to Dvorák’s Ninth Symphony “From the New World” carries a message within its content, and directs us to the point of view of the observing immigrant, of the well-informed musician observing with understand – perhaps even with jealousy – at the immigration experiences of composers who preceded him in the history of music. Another theme presented by the percussion instruments (at the letter J] is reminiscent of Samborsky’s “Song of the Valley”. An episode played by the woodwind instruments provides one of the few calm counterpoint moments in the work. A solo by the flute gives the movement a touch of pastoral color below which begins [at the letter L], the compression and acceleration leading to the passage that completes the movement. In this passage, the heroic feeling is replaced by a feeling of a Bacchanalian mood that sounds as if it is getting out of control.

The flute and the French horn open the second movement, which is pastoral in character. Lavry’s ability to create beautiful lines in the woodwind instruments is again articulated here. The composer greatly reduces the role of the string instruments and most of the time creates a sense of extended chamber music rather than symphonic tones. Three bars after the letter E, the oboe alludes to the “New World” motif from the first movement. Immediately afterwards there is a dramatic episode that contradicts the mood of the movement [at letters F and G], but which dissipates relatively quickly, leaving a single flute to lead thoughts of the “post-drama”, as fragments of the Dvorák quote fade into the playing of the flute, which is surprising in its melodic flexibility. The fact that this movement is very short intensifies its power. It paints a pastoral picture immersed in dread, without an iota of sentimentality, and all the more intensifies the sense of discomfort which the symphony creates.

The third movement opens with an introduction of the brass wind instruments, which creates a sense of a clear tonal unity with the first movement. At first, the main theme of the movement evokes a sense of joy. It moves between the sections of the orchestra with orchestration characteristic of the previous movements; the percussion instruments are low, the constant dialog between the woodwind instruments, the chorale of the brass wind instruments, the rhythmic patterns of the percussion instruments are preserved, except that this time they serve a different thematic – Bacchanalian in its essence. Lavry, who excelled in preventing the realization of pre-conceived expectations, creates in the midst of what could easily have become a kind of automatic rondo, a contemplative and fundamentally different section. Six bars before the letter F, the “blocks” and the “sections” of the orchestra collapse in favor of a personal “thinner” statement. This unit, which is opened by the English horn, begins with a pensive chromatic line; the first violin responds in a chromatic and dramatic line in a high range followed immediately by a solo line of the flute. The frequent changes in the thickness of the orchestral lines in this movement, together with the orchestral variations, keep the listeners at an extremely high level of alertness. The group of horns returns [at the letter G] with an expressive call that is replaced by a pastoral dialog of the first violin and the clarinet. A tense moment of a clash [at the letter J] leads to the closing unit in which the joyous themes alternate with pastoral reflections played by the flute, the oboe and the bass clarinet. The Bacchanal ending of the symphony echoes the theme from the first movement and creates a very tight feeling that dissipates through the percussion group, with visions of despair and broken cries unexpectedly ending the movement and the whole symphony.

About the Second Symphony

Lavry wrote his second symphony – Symphony No. 2 (Independence Symphony) in 1950. It was performed and recorded in 1951 by The Broadcasting Service Orchestra with soloist Naomi Zuri and the Kol Zion Lagola Choir and conducted by the composer. The lyrics of the song Jerusalem, sung in the second movement, were written by Avraham Broides, and those of Samson’s Step, the song sung by the Choir in the third movement, were written by S. Hame’iri. To some extent, one can discuss the historical injustice done to Lavry through a careful look at this work. Anyone listening to the work and examining the score, needs to have the ability to separate the relative simplicity of the materials that comprise it and the emotional and esthetic output it creates. Like many of Lavry’s works, this symphony is also a deceptive work. It does not create an expectation of surprise in terms of content or structure; the first movement includes one and a half themes that are clear in their structure and position. The orchestration is functional and moves between tutti sections saturated with wind and percussion instruments and between overall lyrical sections that include, as in other Lavry works, solo excerpts, mainly of the woodwind instruments: the oboe (which leads the second theme of the movement) and the flute. In retrospect, after listening to the entire work, some of the full orchestral passages can be interpreted [for example, the four bars preceding the letter H, the three bars before the letter K, and certain areas in the R and S passages] as passages in which a storm, a ritual and a drama that cannot be expressed in implicit clarity, replace the superficiality of joy and heroicness. Surprisingly, Lavry the composer, and the orchestra he had at his disposal, failed to bring the degree of distance and restraint in these passages to the stage and, in my estimation, there is a far more fascinating and much more complex story in the score than the one emerging from the recorded performance. Also, as mentioned, the fact that the three movements of the composition are influenced by the motifs of the first movement is not surprising. Lavry, in this arena, is considered to be someone who is typically flexible in toning down forms, and for whom unity of motif is not foreign. The musical message of the second movement is also not a groundbreaking one; the beautiful melodic line of the mezzo soprano singer is gently encased by the choir and the orchestra; exalted moments receive the volume they deserve by inclusion of the brass wind instruments and the percussion instruments, and the attentive listener will be able to identify affinity between this work and the works of Mahler and Mussorgsky. It is only on further listening, following decoding of the symphony in its entirety that one can relate to the drumming passages and to the episodes that are not necessarily melodic [six bars after the letter D through to the beginning of letter E, and the letters H and I] as a wake-up call to what is later to be revealed. Even though in Lavry’s manuscript several pages of the score that included further development of the materials presented in the movement have been erased, the sense of having extracted and of having stood behind the pure melodic thought dictated the effective brevity of this movement is clear. The big surprise and the symphonic turning point occur in the last movement of the work. The movement begins [the section marked with the letter B] as a pathos-saturated statement of the percussion instruments and an expanded section of the wind instruments (to which three saxophones are added), aided by a fugato that includes the entire orchestra and is structurally reminiscent of the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony [starting with the Vivo notation that opens a new letter count] and reaches a powerful peak at the letters G and J, and which turns suddenly [at letters, T, U and thereafter] into a musical tempest that bursts through Lavry’s esthetic language boundaries. A momentary return to a compressed melody played by the strings [at the letter W] precedes a huge percussion outburst that is almost devoid of tonal significance: noises, explosions, tension, drama and tremendous pain fill the musical space. An unfulfilled cry that draws attention to the sub-text of Samson killing himself in order to overcome his enemies, which evokes in the listener a sensory wound in his unconscious that is unprecedented in the work and perhaps even in all of Lavry’s work. Whether the composer wrote the work chronologically and it took him two movements to cry out his “unaesthetic” pain or whether he planned this in advance, this screaming segment is a musical testimony the likes of which we have not found in the works of other composers of that era. I cannot imagine an unaesthetic and unsupported (mental) storm of this nature in Boskowitz, Ben-Haim, Tal or Partush.

Lavry, the observer, and the “portrait painter,” deserves further examination through his work Daliyat El Carmel, which was written in 1961 after the composer’s visit to that mountain-top Druze town. The work is written for a large orchestra and extends over roughly 16 minutes. Lavry, one of the only composers of his generation who endeavored to also engage in the non-Jewish reality in the country, made a fascinating effort to use a western tool of expression (a symphonic orchestra) to paint a culture and landscape that were not of it. The key to looking at the score lies in the composer’s orchestration work: in this case he allowed himself to characterize the orchestra as a collection of small groups with solo leads by individual instruments. This poem has more solo parts than other Lavry works and it would appear, from an interpretive viewpoint, that the perception of time (the interval) and of space (which is clearly non-urban), turned the observing, sensitive Lavry to areas of what was effectively chamber music. It is also possible that the release from the commitment to an ideological ethos brought Lavry to a different tonal idea and allowed him to give himself up more than usual to fragmentation, fantasies and the absence of commitment to a structure. Lavry takes an impression; he does not imitate or quote – he brings his own personal version of accepted conventions for describing nature in music, with interesting tonal and orchestral emphases: an opening role for the contrabass; laying bare the sounds of the English horn; an extensive role that reveals different faces of the flute; and beautiful and outstanding dialogs between the flute and the other instruments. Thus, at the letter FF, heavenly dialogs take shape between the flute and the drum, but at the letter E and the letter HH, when the flute and the violin “frolic” together, a totally different musical fabric is formed, and the flute sounds receive a more western context.

The percussion instruments, and the Timpani in particular, are also given a special role that stands out mainly in the second movement of the work [which commences at the letter R]. Lavry sets himself free from the shackles of tradition – of the need or “necessity” to use defined heights of sound when he allows the percussion section to play a thematic and narrative role or when he frequently separates it out from the full orchestral textures and gives it pulsating meaning and motive. The sporadic, contemplative and seemingly non-directional nature of the work is also reflected in the accompanying textures. Lavry writes roles that are not necessarily consecutive for harp and celesta, and even the full orchestral sections lack the brass-percussion tones identifiable with his creation Emek [“Valley” in English] (indeed it would have been odd had Lavry used the same compositional instruments for the description of both valley and hill). At certain points in the score [such as at the letter D], clear chromatic lines are formed that touch on non-tonal abstraction.

The detailed ornamentation allows Lavry to sail between modal centers in a way that reinforces a sense of migration. This score also reflects the composer’s associative writing. In this case, the timeline and the evolving events give the work its uniformity. Lavry characterizes the music in this work in extended ornamentation of a kind that is written in the notes as accompanying sounds, and as embedded in the rapid rhythmic values. This ornamentation, as well as the frequent changes in weight in the work, heighten the sense of release from an external beat to a happening.

About the Songs for Voice and Piano

Lavry found in the art song in its various shades, a source of expression for his distinct melodic abilities; his songs are characterized by a captivating melody, an interesting piano accompaniment and special connections between word and sound. Thus, for example, in the pastoral song The Shepherds’ Song (1947, lyrics by Raphael Eliaz), in which it is possible to hear echoes of the light-footed deer scattered in the ascending quarter tone, which becomes a main motif in the song [bars 5, 7, 9, 11, 12-13, 16, 17-20 and others] and in the rhythmic pattern of two parts of sixteen in the third eighth in a sequence of four eighths in several bars.

In comparison, in the touching lyrical song Lullaby (1937, to the lyrics of Shaul Tchernichovsky), Lavry creates an almost recitative line, saturated with primary and secondary intervals, with open melodic sentences [such as the one ending at bar 7], which are quickly resolved at the beginning of the following musical sentence. In the song My Boat (1937, lyrics by Assaf Halevi), Lavry creates a wavy melodic line that rises in the second half to a high vocal range. Lavry’s piano accompaniment creates an interesting harmonic kaleidoscope: he uses organ points that are in a relationship of tension and relaxation and which develop with the harmonic line; he use harmonic alterations (extensions) where he raises the first steps of the scale and lowers the dominant chords built on the fifth scale degree by creating nearly modal situations at surprising moments. In most of the songs, the piano accompaniment creates a rhythmic movement with frequent dynamic changes. At the meeting points between Lavry’s songs and texts that are themselves on the fascinating seamline between folk and art songs, the music is especially aware of its ability to control the unfolding of the song. The best example of this is to be found in Bialik’s song Come Out, My Sister, My Bride. In this song, the melody stops on the last word in the first line “bride”). Lavry gives the speaker in the song another slight moment of hesitation, of thought; he undermines the absolute lust or passion that the text may offer. Bialik’s mouthpiece too, almost like Lavry himself, is amazed at the eruption of spring, and allows himself the time he needs to view and savor it.

The vocal image of Lavry’s melody seems to have been influenced by singers who had a broad vocal range; one can imagine the voice of Yosefa Schocken or of Netanya Dovrat singing these songs combined with an awareness of the “quasi-folk” element they contain, but while also aware of their distinct artistic origin. The aesthetic blurring that Lavry created between folk songs and art songs is not coincidental. He does not seek vocal complications, vocal virtuosity or tension between the roles of the voice and the piano – he creates a seemingly simple uniformity, one with which one can connect and which has clear structures and a connection between lyrics and melody that make these songs extremely accessible, and an important part of the Hebrew art song repertoire to this day.


The Hebrew article was edited by Na’ama Tamir.