Commissioned by Chesapeake Chamber Music
The trio for clarinet, viola and piano, Yedid Nefesh (“Beloved of my soul”), takes its title from a poem (see translation below) by Eliezer Azikri, a mystical Jewish poet of the 16th century. The poem, traditionally used at the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath, expresses the relation between the individual and the divine as one of longing and of delight, using the imagery of a lover as its prime metaphor. The poem has been set to many different melodies; this piece is based on a beautiful and delicate Sephardic melody, one that has remained in my mind for many years as a melody that I wanted to use in a composition.
The trio is essentially a set of variations/transformations on the Yedid Nefesh melody, exploring its different moods and harmonies. The 25-minute piece is in five movements (slow-fast-slow-fast-slow), and is played without pause. The first movement introduces and then presents several variations on the melody; the second and fourth movements, scherzo-like, are exuberant celebrations of that side of its character; and the third and the final, fifth movement are gentle, still, meditations. In addition to the principal melody, there is one other prominent melody, first introduced by the viola in the third movement–a “longing” theme, more chromatic than the Yedid Nefesh theme, to emphasize the yearning nature of much of the poem.
This trio was written for my friend, violist Maria Lambros, and the Eastern Shore Chamber Music Festival (since renamed Chesapeake Chamber Music). We decided on the ensemble of clarinet, viola and piano—a combination that we both love, and that seemed fitting for the nature of the composition. The piece received its premiere at the Eastern Shore Chamber Music Festival on June 8, 2007, played by Lawrie Bloom, Dov Scheindlin, and Diane Walsh. The piece has been subsequently performed in Portland, Chicago, Baltimore and New York City, and has been recorded on the album Sea of Reeds, performed by Vasko Dukovski, Maria Lambros, and Alexandra Joan.
Eliezer Azikri, trans. by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
Beloved of my soul, compassion’s gentle source,
Take my inner nature and shape it to your will.
Like a darting deer I will flee to you.
Before your glorious presence humbly do I bow.
Let your sweet love delight me with its thrill,
Because no other dainty will my hunger still.
How splendid is your light which worlds do reflect!
My soul is worn from craving for your love’s delight.
Please, good God, do heal her and show to her Your face,
So my soul can see you and bathe in your grace.
There she will find strength and healing in this sight.
Her joy will be complete then, eternal her delight.
What pity stirs in you since days of old, my God!
Be kind to me, your own child, begotten by your love.
For long and longing hours I yearned for your embrace.
To see my light in your light, basking in your grace.
My heart’s desire is to harmonize with yours.
Do not conceal your pity, hide not that light of yours.
Appear, my lover, spread your canopy of peace,
Enfold all human beings, give all pain surcease.
Enlighten all the earth with your radiant presence
And we shall respond with song and with dance.
Rush, my love, be quick, the time for love is now,
Let your gentle favor grace us as of old.
Premiere: June 2007: Lawrie Bloom, Dov Scheindlin, and Diane Walsh, Eastern Shore Chamber Music Festival.
August 2009: Todd Palmer, Maria Lambros, and Dena Levine, Portland Chamber Music Festival
October 2009: J. Lawrie Bloom, Maria Lambros, and Diane Walsh, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, IL
January 2012: Vasko Dukovski, Maria Lambros, and Alexandra Joan, WMP Concert Hall, New York, NY
January 2014: Rob Patterson, Maria Lambros, and Audrey Andrist, Strathmore, North Bethesda, MD
April 2016:Vasko Dukovski, Sarah Adams, and Alexandra Joan, Shaarei Tikvah, Scarsdale, NY
To purchase score and parts, contact Gerald Cohen: firstname.lastname@example.org
PDF version of score and parts: $25
Printed version of score and parts: $40 + postage
This track is from the album SEA OF REEDS; information on purchasing the track or the entire album is on the SEA OF REEDS page.
The final piece on the album, “Yedid Nefesh,” is based on a simple, sweet Sephardic setting of a mystical Jewish poem. Cohen wrote the piece for his friend, violist Maria Lambros, who performs on the recording along with clarinetist Vasko Dukovski and pianist Alexandra Joan of the Grneta Ensemble. Together, the three bring to life the piece’s rich tone and vibrant colors, highlighting both the vivacious and the meditative aspects of the delicate melody.
Though each piece on “Sea of Reeds” has its own distinct character and style, Cohen’s gorgeous lyricism flows sweetly through each of them, tying together his exploration of the clarinet’s many diverse colors and dynamics.
Yedid Nefesh—a suite in five continuous movements based upon a Sephardic song—is an intriguingly varied soundscape that artfully employs clarinet (Dukovski), viola (Maria Lambros) and piano (Joan) to telling effect…
Length-of-note execution—especially in “Scherzando”—is the best match of the disc. Lambros soars to the upper reaches with passion and an intense lyricism that deftly contrasts the busier moments. Dukovski demonstrates his mastery of control, notably in the “heavenly” reaches where embouchure, reed and breath-support combine for incredibly delicate speech. Always aware of the overall goals and flow, Joan thrusts and parries as required: unforgettable are her contributions to the thoughtfully retrospective “With quiet motion, flowing” right from the opening rocking scale.
Cohen’s imagination, sense of balance and contrast are expertly employed, making this work a truly cohesive whole and the highlight of the recording.