About this Piece
This program note was supplied by Universal Edition:
"A broken song played on a shattered cymbalon." Thus, writes Kafka, begins Yiddishbbuk, a collection of apocryphal psalms, which he read while living in Prague's street of the alchemists. The only remnants of the collection are a few verses interspersed among the entries of his notebooks, and the last lines are also quoted in a letter to Milena: "No one sings as purely as those who are in the deepest hell. Theirs is the song which we confused with that of the angels." Written in Hebrew characters and surrounded with musical notation, marks similar to those of the genuine texts, the psalms' only other reference to their music is: "In the mode of the Babylonic Lamentations."
Based on these vestiges, these inscriptions for string quartet are an attempt to reconstruct that music. The movements of the piece bear the initials of persons commemorated in the work. The first movement commemorates three children interned by the Nazis at the Terezin: Doris Weiserova (1932-1944), Frantisek Bass (1930-1944), and Tomas Kauders (1934-1943). Their poems and drawings appear in the book "I never saw another butterfly", published by the U.S. Holocaust Museum. The second movement bears the initials of the writer Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904-1991), and the last movement the initials of Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990).
Yiddishbbuk was commissioned by the Tanglewood Music Center and the Fromm Music Foundation. It was premiered by the St Lawrence String Quartet at the 1992 Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music