Lament/Witches’ Sabbath (2017)

Clarinet in Bb and Orchestra


Commissioned by the Guggenheim Foundation, written for David Krakauer and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project.


This project is very close to me; it involves the re-writing of my personal and family history through instrumental sound (klezmer-tinged clarinet with orchestra) and the sound and texture of the voice (field recordings of Ukrainian laments; sung and spoken Ukrainian, Russian, and Yiddish text by my grandmother). It is also about reconnecting with my high school friend and dear colleague, the amazing clarinetist/composer David Krakauer, for whom the piece was written. David and I worked closely together in the year leading up to the premiere to discuss the concerto’s developing musical language and structure, David’s input and support was invaluable. The work is about migration, loss, memory, and cultural transformation. It is a tribute to my grandmother, Bella Liss.

The research portion of this project began with an extensive search for field recordings of early twentieth-century Ukrainian-Jewish laments that were similar to the laments that my grandmother sang to me when I was a child. My family fled Proskurov Ukraine in 1919, during the well-documented massacre in that town. Each Passover in my grandparents’ small apartment in the Bronx packed with over 30 relatives, my grandmother would gather the grandchildren to tell us about how she and her seven children fled the city, crossed the “granitz” (border), and eventually (after selling their silver in Vienna) landed in Palestine before eventually coming to the US. She witnessed many killings in the town square, gave birth to my mother in the woods while fleeing the massacre, and told this incredible story to us in what I now realize was an Eastern European lament style – part song, sobbing, and speaking. The new work interleaves field recordings of Ukrainian laments and recordings of my grandmother singing and telling the “granitz” story as recorded by my aunt Nettie Price, the youngest of her eight children, in her home in the early 1980s.

Part 1, Lament (7’), uses lament field recordings and my grandmother’s voice as source material carefully interleaved with the clarinet soloist and orchestra. Part 2, Witches’ Sabbath, references my grandmother’s superstitious sensibility (which is also is grounded in Eastern European Jewish culture) and is loosely based on the last movement of Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique, “Songe d’une nuit du sabbat.” It is a re-working of elements of that music with Klezmer inspired excursions based on the folk elements already embedded in the Berlioz. It is new music that appropriates, transforms, and interprets elements from the original. The idea of this movement is to mesh my microtonal musical language with David Krakauer’s improvisational sensibility using aspects of Berlioz’s musical material and the evocative theme of “witches’ sabbath” as a reference point.

Through the mining of diverse musical and cultural sources – Eastern European laments, klezmer, Western European classical, microtonal – and addressing the universal and timely themes of migration, loss, and cultural transformation, the work will speak to diverse audiences both in the US and internationally. It is my hope that my own personal journey to connect with my cultural roots and to trace and write my family history will help clarify and contribute to current debates surrounding these issues.

Plurabelle Music Publishing

World Premiere
January 11, 2018, Carnegie Music Hall, Pittsburgh

In A Dark Wood: The Journey Through Mathew Rosenblum’s Lament/Witches’ Sabbath (teaser 1)

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In A Dark Wood: The Journey Through Mathew Rosenblum’s Lament/Witches’ Sabbath (teaser 2)

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