Songs of the Sephardim [2008]

Songs of the Sephardim is a suite of songs without words, in which each movement is a setting of a Medieval Iberian Jewish poet. Each poem is set in the original Hebrew, using the Sephardic pronunciation system which places the accent of each word on the last syllable. The Sephardic speech rhythms changed my approach to text setting in subtle ways. For instance, many of the poetic lines were set to music that ascends, where in English and Spanish settings, my melodies tend to descend.

My approach was to first set the text as a bare melody, and then cast it with complementary materials. In The Garden of Song, the original melody is offset by short sul ponticello interjections, meant to give a distressed and dolorous counterpart to the increasingly radiant melody. Because the text of The Laundress is very simply constructed, I wanted to use simple musical means. I intended the tune to evoke a folk song, and then arranged it for the cello using the baroque technique of bariolage, initially alternating melody notes with open strings, but later interspersed with both open strings and their natural harmonics. For Take Heart, I wrote it as a duet for the cello with itself to create a kind of reinforced and reinforcing music, only breaking into solo, lyric melodies for the more heartening images of the candle and the wounded lion.


Jakub Omsky, vcl.; Wichita, KS (Mar 2008), New York City (April 2008),
      Madison, WI (Jan 2009) [Garden of Song only]