Unearthing the rhythmic flow of Yiddish poems

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Nocturnal thoughts. © Charles Thibo

Kafka is on my mind. It’s hard to escape him right now, and actually I do not want to escape him. I want to meet him, see him, listen to him, embrace him. He has become a companion dear to me, a friend for the rest of my life, just like Franz Schubert, Fanny Mendelssohn and Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Kafka. The question of Jewishness and authenticity. During the winter of 1912, Kafka tried to promote in the Jewish community of Prague a band of Eastern European amateur actors with a Yiddish repertoire. He expected a certain hostility. The Jews in Prague generally despised the Jews from Russia as being uneducated, rough, even primitive. The saw their assimilation to the refined Austrian-Hungarian bourgeoisie as their supreme social achievement. Kafka however saw in Yizhak Lewi and his band an expression of authentic Jewishness, while he had much less interest in the lofty political dreams of his Zionist friends in Prague.

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Praise the Lord with trumpets, harp and strings!

Grachaninov-cantata
© Charles Thibo

Something solemn! That was the idea. But no Bach! Anybody can blog about Bach’s music on Christmas. And everybody does. Except me. I had a few other options: Saint-Saëns, Händel, Pärt. I listened to preludes, fugues, organ pieces – no. What about a cantata? I liked the idea. A cantata – I didn’t know too many cantatas that weren’t written by Bach though. And then my eyes fell on the perfect music for Christmas: Alexander Grechaninov’s cantata “Praise the Lord” (Хвалите Бога), Op. 65.

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Whistling in the dark to keep monsters away

Shostakovich cello sonata
The fangs of darkness. © Charles Thibo

Watch out, because they are watching you. They lurk behind every corner, ready to grab you and lock you up. They are monsters. Stealthy, cowardly, insidious. They have the power to destroy you and to make you shine. They are everywhere. Paranoid times. Gruesome times. Stalin’s evil empire. You can sing however to chase away your fears. You can whistle in the dark and hope for the danger to pass. You can be bold and show your strength by acknowledging publicly your fear. You can find allies by being true to yourself.

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Hardship, triumph and redemption

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Pearls. © Charles Thibo

Few introductions of a piano concerto have captivated my attention as quickly as Nikolai Medtner’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in E minor, Op. 60. Tension, solemnity, grace – it’s all there. Medtner wrote it between 1940 and 1943, while he moved from London to Birmingham and from Birmingham to the countryside to escape the bombing campaign of the German Luftwaffe. He completed it upon his return to London, a city devastated, but not vanquished.

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