Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) and Kaddish-Deux Mélodies Hébraïques

Maurice Ravel has composed one of the most beautiful Jewish music of all times. The mourning songs Kaddish (Two Hebrew melodies) with their minimal piano accompaniment, declamatory (often close to a recitativo) style and long melismas bringing the climax there is no doubt that Ravel has listened to some Synagogue music and cantors.

Actually the name ``Kaddish'' is the title of the first of those two songs which form a cycle named Deux Mélodies Hébraïques. The lyrics of the first song Kaddish are in Aramaic and come from a Jewish prayer book. The second of those songs, called L'√Čnigme √©ternelle is based on a Yiddish verse.

Figure: Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

They were first performed in June 1914 by Alvina Alvi (who commissioned them) with Ravel at the piano. Ravel orchestrated the songs in 1919-1920.

The main idea behind the very important and central prayer in Jewish liturgy which is Kaddish (Aramaic: ``holy'') is the magnification and sanctification of God's name. It is very often said in mourning.

In the liturgy, several variations of the Kaddish are used functionally as separators between various sections of the service. The term ``Kaddish'' is often used to refer specifically to ``The Mourners' Kaddish,'' said as part of the mourning rituals in Judaism in all prayer services as well as at funerals and memorials. When mention is made of ``saying Kaddish'', this unambiguously denotes the rituals of mourning.

The opening words of this prayer are inspired by Ezekiel 38:23, a vision of God becoming great in the eyes of all the nations. The central line of the kaddish in Jewish tradition is the congregation's response ``May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity'', a public declaration of God's greatness and eternality.[1] This response is a paraphrase of part of Daniel 2:20.

The Mourners', Rabbis' and Complete Kaddish end with a supplication for peace, which is in Hebrew, and comes from the Bible.

Along with the Shema and Amidah, the Kaddish is one of the most important and central prayers in the Jewish liturgy.

Written in a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic the Kaddish is about a half-page long text, primarily magnifying and glorifying God, as well as expressing a wish for a speedy coming of the Messianic era. It is recited primarily in the synagogue service after principal sections of the liturgy or at the beginning of such sections. In most occasions the service leader sings the Kaddish, with some congregational responses[9]5.10.

Dr. Tarsi (op.cit.) gives the following approximate translation of the text of the Kaddish as used by Ravel:

Magnified and sanctified be the name of God throughout the world which He has created according to His will.
May He establish His kingdom during the days of our life and the life of all speedily and soon and let us say Amen.
(Here normally comes a congregational response, which is missing from Ravel's setting).
Exalted and glorified, lauded and praised, acclaimed and honored be the name of the Holy One blessed be He,
praised beyond all blessings and hymns,
beyond all tributes that mortals can express and let us say Amen.

Mehmet Okonsar 2011-03-14