4.57. Shulamit Ran, opera ‘Between Two Worlds’ (1998)

The concept of the “real world” of the dead as opposed to the “world of deceit” of the living can be found in several works in A Tool of Remembrance. As a parody, it occurs in Yitskhok Leybush Perets’ short story Bontshe Shvayg (1894); *Chapter 4.1 after his extremely unhappy life on earth, the nondescript protagonist leaves the “World of Deceit” to get a warm welcome in the “World of Truth” of the dead. In Avrom Sutskever’s poem Resurrection (1945), *Chapter 4.25 however, the dead refuse to be resurrected and to return from the world of the dead into the “real world,” because the latter is completely ruined by the war. The work through which the concept has become widely known is S. Anski’s play Between Two Worlds (The Dybbuk) (1919). *Chapter 4.10. In this play, the dead Khonen becomes a dybbuk, a doomed soul, who possesses the body of his living beloved Leah, who was to marry a man she did not love; finally, Khonen and Leah leave the world of the living, to be united in the World of Truth.

Two compositions discussed in this study were inspired by Anski’s play and, in this way, indirectly directed by the Past of the dybbuk legends, which had already become widespread in the 17th century. *The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion 212. In Aaron Copland’s piano trio Vitebsk (1929), *Chapter 4.15 the idea of the soul of a dead person in the body of a living person gets a tangible musical expression in the piano part, where one hand plays major chords and the other simultaneous minor chords. The opera Between Two Worlds (1998) by Shulamit Ran, who was born in Israel in 1949 and lives in the United States, is not only inspired by Anski’s play, but also an adaption of it. The principal parts are those of Leya (lyric soprano), Khonnon (tenor) and Reb Azriel (bass); there are a number of smaller solo parts, a choir and an orchestra of 25 players, including three shofar blowers. *The opera was first performed in 1997 by the Lyric Opera of Chicago, which commissioned it. Though this opera company has made the only recording of the work, they do not allow anybody (musicologists, the publisher, and even the composer) to view it. Shulamit Ran, e-mail to the author, May 4, 2011. This chapter is based on the Revised Version of the piano-vocal score.

As the story of The Dybbuk has already been discussed in Chapter 4.10 on Anski’s play, only the exorcism ritual with the shofarot is considered here. In the play, this ritual encompasses 7-8 minutes near the end of Act IV *Anski, Between Two Worlds (The Dybbuk) 47-8 and the only speaking actors are Leah (Dybbuk) and Rabbi Azriel, whereas the same scene in the opera encompasses mm. 393-665 of Act II with twice this duration and a larger number of participants: Leya (Dybbuk), Khonnon (Dybbuk), Reb Azriel, Reb Shimshon, Freyde, and a choir. Just as the Dybbuk is performed by two singers: the tenor and the soprano, the shofar blasts are blown by two instrumental groups: the shofar blowers and the brass players of the orchestra (horns, trumpets, trombone and bass trombone). The shofarot blow the traditional blasts, immediately followed by the brass section, which plays extremely loudly and repeats rhythmic elements from the traditional blasts.

In mm. 506-8, the brass blow a shevarim, while Reb Azriel raises his voice: “In the name of the Rabbi of the city, in the name of the great sanhedrin of Jerusalem;” *The missing punctuation is compensated for by the melodic contour, the rests and the instrumentation he is followed, in a free canon, by Reb Shimshon, the city’s rabbi; enhanced by two shofar-like motifs in mm. 517 and 524, they command the Dybbuk to leave Leya’s body. In mm. 547-8, the shofarot are blown at the beginning of the actual exorcism ritual, ominously announced by Reb Azriel: “You are given over to higher spirits to expel you by force – Tekiah,” and immediately before “Tekiah” the brass section plays a powerful chord. Reb Azriel’s “shvorim” in m. 557 is followed by five measures with the traditional shofar blast alternating with a repetitive dissonant chord in the brass, a highly effective combination. The dialogue between the archaic, “out-of-tune” shofarot and the modern, standardized brass instruments seems to symbolize the relation between Reb Azriel and Reb Shimson, as characterized by David Roskies: “Ansky is careful to distinguish between the zaddik’s charismatic powers and the rabbinic authority vested in the rabbi, Reb Shimson.” *Roskies, in S. Ansky, The Dybbuk and Other Writings 214, Note 13. The tension is increased in mm. 572-88, where the brass players not only repeat the shevarim, but also play the idiomatic upward glissando of the shofar. After Reb Azriel’s curse in mm. 595-608: “Iniquitous obturate specter all threads are sundered that bind you to the living world and the body and soul of Leya daughter of Khannah – Teruah,” the tension is even more increased in a repeated, rapid alternation of shofar blasts and repetitive dissonant brass chords. The chord E/F♯/G/D/D♯/F (Ex. 12, mm. 1-3) is played three times, and then, to increase tension, repeated a 2nd higher as F/F♯/A/D♯/E (Ex. 12, mm. 5-6).



Ex. 12. Shulamit Ran, Between Two Worlds, piano-vocal score, Act II, mm. 609-615. Leya (Dybbuk), Khonnon (Dybbuk), Reb Azriel. * m. 613: “ca. minor third interval between the 2 pitches.” Note * in m. 615: “Pitch of shofars will vary from one instrument to another. Notes shown here illustrate general contour. A prepared tape is available . . . On tape . . . the approximate pitches are [E4-A4 (quarter tone higher), B♭4-F5, F5-B♭5.]” Reproduced by permission of Carl Fisher LLC, New York.

After frenzied teruʿah-like rhythms in the full orchestra, the scene culminates in Leya’s last cry: “No!” and the twelve strokes of the clock. Finally, in m. 661, the curse is revoked.

In his piano trio Vitebsk, *Chapter 4.15 that was also inspired by The Dybbuk, Aaron Copland increases the tension in the final stage after rehearsal mark N by using sequences. The shofar theme is repeated higher and higher with tone repetitions on E♭, E, F♯ and A consecutively, whereas the accompaniment remains in the same key, thus creating increasingly wrenching effects. In Between Two Worlds, however, Shulamit Ran achieves this effect by manipulating the flow of time, by increasing or decreasing the pace of the events. An example of the former is m. 547, where Leya (Dybbuk) is very quick to answer the tekiʿah with: “I will not go!” An example of the latter is the episode of 55 measures between the shevarim in m. 558 and the teruʿah in m. 613, lasting much longer than the 9 measures between the tekiʿah and the shevarim.

While working on Between Two Worlds in 1998, Shulamit Ran met the same problem as Edward Elgar in his work on The Apostles *Chapter 4.5 in 1903: the ram’s horn as a natural product turned out to be incompatible with the instruments of the symphony orchestra with their standardized pitches. Whereas Elgar had to find a purely acoustical solution: the replacement of the shofar by an ad libitum valve trumpet, Ran could use modern electronic technique and replace the shofarot by recorded animal horns:

Theoretically it should be possible to have the shofar music performed live by a minimum of three shofar players. One problem I had was that, its totally unique sound notwithstanding, the shofar, being a rather unwieldy instrument, would have been nearly impossible to play reliably *Cf. Edward Elgar (Chapter 4.5) about “the real instrument, which I am told is treacherous and next to impossible to use m u s i c a l l y [.]” Despite this difficulty, the shofar is blown successfully, though unprepared and under great stress, by the rabbis in the documentary stories by Abel Herzberg (Chapter 4.39) and Yechiel Granatstein (Chapter 4.51)—in time and rhythm as I had envisioned—even if we would have miraculously managed to find three or more suitable shofar players. The pitch was not a concern—I planned the music so that precise tuning is not at all of paramount importance. So, to make it all work, my solution was to pre-record the shofar music and have it come in, amplified, on cue. The final result, I think, is quite realistic in its effect… *Miller, “Between Two Cultures: A Conversation with Shulamith Ran” 23.

The above passage makes not only clear that the composer qualified the shofar sounds as “music” instead of “blasts,” but also that dissonant shofar blasts were no longer an issue in late 20th-century tonal music.


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