St. Louis, MO, USA, July 1, 1958
(credit Jane Schlansker)
Aaron Rabushka at a
restaurant near Budapest with a postcard of a painting by the Hungarian
artist, Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka
Music from Six Continents
Vienna Modern Masters VMM 3050, 2000 Series
VMM 3052, 2001 Series
"I dream my painting, and then
I paint my dream". -Vincent van Gogh, artist
Aaron Rabushka is a very good composer. There is something
about his music that evokes a counterpoint of simultaneous dimensions:
a mixture of time and place settings as much as an interlacing of skilful
orchestration and craftsmanship.
The first of his composition I heard, was his Concerto
Vocale: Salmo 126. (1993). It is recorded in the Vienna
Modern Masters VMM 3050 Music from Six Continents, 2000 Series. To
say that this music touched me deeply would be an understatement. Not
since John McCabe’s Notturni ed Alba, have I been as personally
moved by an orchestral Song Cycle. The scoring is narrower than the
McCabe – no Japanese wind chimes in sight. However, the percussion Rabushka
employs in his economic, yet most effective scoring is just as moving.
The entire piece has a ghost of Britten’s Serenade
for Tenor, Horn and Strings in the clarity of its orchestration,
contrasting density and transparency. A flute and violin rise above
the strings as soloists, underlining the sense of the words. These are
superbly interpreted in Aramaic, by Barbara Pietrzak, a really outstanding
soprano. Her timbre and finesse, her ‘effortless’ pronunciation and
skill are combined with beautiful phrasing: the hallmarks of a really
The Concerto Vocale is based upon Psalm
126, which, in Rabushka’s own words is "a dreaming and powerful
poem that looks to past and future happiness from a not-so-happy present."
The Aramaic is included in the CD booklet together with the Contemporary
English translation of the Psalm.
For me, an unconditional supporter of the Psalter translated
by Miles Coverdale (1536), I miss the beautiful Old English. I fully
realise that this is not the common tongue of the man in the street
today, but then neither is Aramaic. Of course, the meaning is the same,
but the intensity of the poetry is not.
The text set by the composer being Aramaic, I shall
simply indulge myself by illustrating it in the translation of my personal
choice, and not that of the recording company!
"When the Lord turned again
the captivity of Sion: then were we like unto them that dream."
The soprano introduces the first words of the text
and the flute takes over in a long, beautiful quasi recitativo
above the strings. One is carried away on an evocative flight to the
Land of Dreams.
In Rabushka’s own words;
"This work presents a rhapsodic soundscape
that springs from the often dreamy expressions of Psalm 126. The soprano's
text is based upon the Targum Onekelos, one of the Arameic translations
of the Old Testament. The title, Concerto Vocale refers
to the interactive play of solo voice with instruments, and among the
instruments themselves. It derives from the vocal concertos of the Baroque
Era in which the interactions of individual voices and instruments expressed
and expanded the meaning of the text. The orchestra for this work grew
around the sounds I began to hear in connection with this Psalm. It’s
structure evolved intuitively, guided by the text. The instruments respond
to the soprano’s declamations, with flute and violin being predominantly
featured as soloists."
The soprano completes the first verse, and the flute
further explores its opening ‘recitative’ above wood blocks, piano (directly
plucked strings), and string pizzicati in a dialogue with the solo violin.
This is simply beautiful. The flute and the violin are like birds encircling
Then was our mouth filled with laughter: and our tongue
with joy...Yea, the Lord hath done great things for us already: whereof
Rabushka does rejoice! This might be a most surprising
juxtaposition, but a polka, a general letting down of the hair (or head
dress), and having a good time, is what happens next, bringing dreams
to an earthly reality.
"Turn our captivity, O Lord:
as the rivers in the south"
An Old Testament hoedown leads us to a kaleidoscope
of orchestral turmoil which underlines and overtakes the soprano’s words
as the waters gush lavishly.
"They that sow tears in tears:
shall reap in joy".
Her soaring melodies remind me of
the opening soprano statement "Fluxit Labor Diei"
of McCabe’s Notturni ed Alba, yet again. There continue to be
echoes in my memory as Rabushka’s melody rises and is born aloft by
beautiful, skilful orchestration and undiminished interest throughout.
It is a tremendously moving, inspired piece.
Apollinaire (1880-1918) is said to have coined the
word "surrealist" to describe the works of Marc Chagall (1887-1985).
The artists is known for his fanciful painting in which a potpourri
of objects, animals, characters from the artist’s past life, from his
dreams, and from his everyday life are evoked.
Robushka has hosted a radio programme
for many years, and founded the weekly "Spectrum of Jewish Music"
in 1985. His Religion’s history and his dreams and heritage, people
his compositions. The past and the present, the East and the West intertwine
simultaneously in a blend of time and place settings, etching their
own rainbow. One is captivated by this rich, imaginative tapestry.
A second recording on the same label in their 2001
series VMM 3052, again with the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra
under Toshiyuki Shimanda, is of Aaron Rabushka’s Trombone Concerto.
(2000). This was written for the very talented soloist, Jiri Vyndra.
Once more, Rabushka starts with an opening cadenza,
just as he did in Concerto Vocale. In the latter, the
solo flute unveils an ambience of dreams, following an introductory
vocal statement. Here, the trombone also sets off boldly, alone along
its path, to be joined by the violins and an increasing tension. This
ebbs and flows until an inner dance bubbles to the surface, and carries
the trombone and the orchestra along together in lush, harmonic progressions.
Coming as I do from the North of England, I cannot
hear brass instruments without feeling a native tug at the Brass Band
tradition buried (very) deeply inside my DNA. Anthony Burgess (1917-1993),
himself from Manchester, captured this flavour exactly in his novel
The Pianoplayers Should any film maker turn this book into cinema,
as was the case with Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, nobody need
look further than the first movement of Rabushka’s Trombone Concerto
for the perfect accompaniment. The book is set in Provence and
Manchester. That’s exactly how the colours of this concerto strike me.
From Chagall ‘s Vence in the South of France, to the Pier Theatres
in places like Blackpool in the North of England, the hues and nuances
from the pen of the author appear in parallel form with that of the
composer. Pierrot and Columbine are not far away, neither is turmoil,
nor humour. Never is Robushka one to miss a hoedown, a knees-up,
or a bal du samedi soir.
The original theme returns, but first the trombone
leads us in a colourful procession through a Camille Saint-Saëns-èsque
farmyard where we briefly catch sight of the Hens and the Cockerels.
The second movement is a beautiful, slow Waltz
that is majestic and never over-sweet. The orchestra restates the theme
to an obligato from the soloist. It concludes with a sprinkling
of sherbet quartertones, a lovely touch: a tear glinting in the corner
of Pierrot’s eye?
The last movement, Allegro vivo,
is a colourful dance, a marked contrast to the previous, slow Andantino.
The dappled lighting of "Moulin de la Galette"
in Montmatre, by Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), makes me
think of a happy throng enjoying life and living. Clever contrasts and
writing bring light and shade. Did Chagall or Renoir plant a Circus
Tent in the Champ de Mars by the Eiffel Tower? Are we
in Paris in the Belle Epoque? Perhaps this is one of the Circuses
painted by Edgar Dégas (1834-1917)? The musical picture is evocative
of the style, mood, and easels of the period.
Somehow a ghost of William Walton walks through Façade
and into Rabushka’s Circus Ring for a brief moment. Another hoedown
finds its way into our happy, colourful gathering, and the concerto
It’s a delight, be the Tower Blackpool or Eiffel.
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) and Charles Ives (1874-1954)
have ghosts of Military Bands and New England fiddlers walking through
their picture frames. Havergal Brian (1876-[amazingly] 1972), that atrociously
neglected, British composer of such epic gems as the Gothic Symphony,
wove his multi-layers everywhere. These three composers were born within
a mere sixteen years of each other, a coincidence I note, en passant.
Somehow it doesn’t surprise me that Aaron Rabushka
is a member of the Havergal Brian Society. Rabushka’s
pleasing palette from Hebrew Hoedowns, to winsome Waltzes
via refined construction and spirituality, make his the canvasses of
yet another maverick.
Rabushka tells me that he moved to Fort Worth, Texas,
just in time to miss the Renoir exhibit. People in Fort Worth shouldn’t
worry. They should just listen to his music instead.
Whichever instrument you play, or wish to hear, I encourage
you to visit Aaron Robushka’s home page and look up his compositions.
You can contact the composer directly;
Aaron J. Rabushka
© Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland 9.5.02