Instrumental Music

Compositions for one or more instrument.

Click on a title below for more information.

Unless otherwise noted, all scores (and parts) are available by contacting me directly
at gerald@nullgeraldcohenmusic.com.


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Premiered by Wendy Sharp, violin, Robin Sharp, viola

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Commissioned by the Grneta Ensemble

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Commissioned by the Cassatt String Quartet

Playing for our lives was composed for the Cassatt String Quartet, who gave the premiere of the piece in New York City in February 2012.  The Cassatts, in planning a program of music of the composers who were interned in the Nazi concentration camp Terezin (Theresienstadt), asked me to compose a piece which would be a contemporary memorial and tribute to the musical life of that place.  Terezin, near Prague, was in essence a transit camp, where Jews and some other prisoners were kept until transport to the death camps such as Auschwitz. The Nazis allowed a certain amount of art and education to take place at Terezin, both as a way of occupying the prisoners, and also since it served their purpose of deceiving the world as to the nature of concentration camps in general.  And there were a great number of excellent artists of all sorts in the camp, among those many excellent performers and several excellent composers—and so musical life flourished with a passion in these very strange surroundings.

In my string quartet, I have used several musical essences of the life at Terezin.  One is the Yiddish folk song “Beryozkele” (Little birch tree), a poignant song that was arranged there by the composer Viktor Ullmann (I use the melody, not his arrangement). Folk songs—Czech, Hebrew and Yiddish—were important parts of the lives especially of the children at Terezin, who sang them in choirs formed in their barracks.  The second is a lullaby from Hans Krasa’s opera Brundibar, which was one of the most important musical experiences of Terezin–an opera performed entirely by children as the singers, and which was so popular there that it was performed more than 50 times.  Finally, I use excerpts from Verdi’s Requiem, a piece that was championed at Terezin by the dynamic conductor Rafael Schachter, and was also performed many times, but by three different choruses–as after each of the first two performances, virtually the entire chorus was transported to their deaths at Auschwitz.

With all of these pieces, but especially the Requiem, the layers of paradox and poignancy are extraordinarily powerful: for the prisoners, music was something that gave them deep joy; at the same time, the Nazis used the concerts as a propaganda tool to fool the world as to the nature of the camp.  The Requiem spoke to people of their own deaths, but at the same time, in speaking of  a Dies Irae—a day of wrath—was a defiant stab at the Nazis.

In my quartet, these various feelings and musical elements are woven together to create a memorial to the musical and emotional life of the camp.  “Beryozkele” and its tender lament dominate the early part of the piece; the middle section is a set of variations on the lullaby from Brundibar, as the music attempts to bring the joy of that piece to the fore; and the final section is dominated by elements of the Requiem, with its passion, anger, and also quiet mourning.

The title of the piece is inspired by a quote from Paul Rabinowitsch, who at the age of 14, was the trumpet player in Brundibar, and was one of the few in that opera to survive the war: “When the SS was present, I always had this shadowy feeling at the back of my head. I knew I could not play wrong, and you can hear every wrong note very clearly on a trumpet.  Rahm [the commandant of Terezin] would notice, I thought to myself, and be mad at me, and put me on a transport.  And in those moments it was as if I were playing for my life.”*

*Quote from The Girls of Room 28 by Hannelore Brenner (Schocken Books, 2009)

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Written for clarinettist Vasko Dukovski

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Commissioned by Haim Avitsur and the Degas String Quartet

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Commissioned by Genesis Agudas Achim Congregation, for the Brooklyn Philharmonic Brass Quintet

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Commissioned by the Grneta Ensemble

I work in two musical words which frequently intersect—that as a composer and cantor.  I often write music for Jewish services, or concert music based on Jewish texts.  These five pieces are a suite made of arrangements for the Grneta Ensemble of music originally written for solo voice or chorus.  It has been a great pleasure to make these new arrangements, and I have since also arranged my songs for violin and piano, and for clarinet, viola and piano.

Hariu Ladonai is a setting of the joyous Psalm 100, a poem which asks all the earth to give a “shout of joy” in praise of God.

Adonai Ro’i is a setting of Psalm 23, one of the most famous of the Psalms “the Lord is my Shepherd”—which is often used as a consolation for those in mourning.

Dodi Li Vaani Lo, originally for chorus, is a setting from the Song of Songs, the Biblical poem celebrating romantic and physical love.

Y’varech’cha is a setting of the text used as a blessing from parents to children at the beginning of the Sabbath celebration.

Dayeinu, also from a choral piece, is based on one of the most famous sections of the Passover Haggadah—a song of thanks to God for deliverance from slavery to freedom.

For clarinet, viola and piano (2012)

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Music for choreography
Commissioned by the Battery Dance Company

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Commissioned by the Franciscan String Quartet

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Commissioned by violinist Wendy Sharp

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Commissioned by Maria Lambros, viola, Michael Kannen, cello, Marija Stroke, piano

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Commissioned by the Wave Hill Trio

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Commissioned by the Verdehr Trio

 

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A new quintet by Gerald Cohen, inspired by the Voyager space mission, performed with astronomical visualization at three planetariums

Voyagers, a composition for clarinet and string quartet, will be a tribute to the two Voyager spacecraft on the 40th anniversary of their launch, and of the music sent to accompany them on their journey out of the solar system. The piece is being written for the Cassatt Quartet and clarinetist Vasko Dukovski; both the Quartet and Dukovski are great champions of new music, and I have enjoyed rewarding collaborations with them before.

When the Cassatt Quartet asked me to write a piece based on the theme of “voyages” for a planned concert, I recalled that the two Voyager spacecraft—launched in the late 1970s, explorers of the outer planets, and now journeying beyond the edge of our solar system—were launched with a “Golden Record” (pictured in the image above), containing recordings of selections of Earth’s music, along with photos and sounds of human life. This was sent as a message, to any extra-terrestrial civilization that might find the record, to convey the essence of human life on Earth.

It is thrilling for me, as a musician, to know that those who created the Golden Record (led by Carl Sagan) felt that music would be a powerful communication to beings on other worlds. My plan is to write a 25-minute piece that focuses on several of the pieces that were part of the Golden Record, and to weave them together in a composition that celebrates humanity’s quest to explore the universe, and the power of music to express the rich emotional and cultural world of human beings. The creators of the Golden Record chose a very idiosyncratic selection of pieces from around the world, and I have in turn chosen several of these pieces—a Renaissance dance, a Mariachi song, an Indian Raga and a late Beethoven quartet—as the main source material for my composition about music and exploration.

The composition is currently scheduled to be presented, with accompanying astronomical visualizations, at three planetariums in the New York City area. The first of these will be in August 2017 (the month of the 40th anniversary of the launch) at the Hayden Planetarium of the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. This will be presented with visualizations designed by Carter Emmart, director of Astrovisualization at the Planetarium. A preview performance of one movement, also with visualizations, will take place in April 2016 at the Planetarium of the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, NY, with full performances of the entire piece there and at the Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium in Suffolk County in the fall of 2017. We are also scheduled to perform the piece four times at the Seal Bay Festival in Vinalhaven, Maine (Summer 2017), and have pending performances at the East Village Planetariumand Shaarei Tikvah Congregation. We are especially excited about the collaboration with the planetariums, seeing it as a linking of music, science and visual art; it will be a collaboration that will also offer important opportunities for education and community outreach celebrating the Voyager anniversary.

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Commissioned by the Chesapeake Chamber Music