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Five Hebrew Love Songs

In the spring of 1996, my great friend and brilliant violinist Friedemann Eichhorn invited me and my girlfriend-at-the-time Hila Plitmann (a soprano) to give a concert with him in his home city of Speyer, Germany. We had all met that year as students at the Juilliard School, and were inseparable.

Because we were appearing as a band of traveling musicians, ‘Friedy’ asked me to write a set of troubadour songs for piano, violin and soprano. I asked Hila (who was born and raised in Jerusalem) to write me a few ‘postcards’ in her native tongue, and a few days later she presented me with these exquisite and delicate Hebrew poems. I set them while we vacationed in a small skiing village in the Swiss Alps, and we performed them for the first time a week later in Speyer.

In 2001, the University of Miami commissioned me to adapt the songs for SATB chorus and string quartet, and the Efroni Choir in Israel commissioned me to adapt them for SA, violin and piano, leaving me now with five (!) different versions of the same work: SATB and string quartet; SATB, violin, and piano; SA and string quartet; SA violin, and piano; and the original soprano, violin, and piano. The choral parts are exactly the same for the different accompaniments, so that if the choir wants to perform the version with string quartet, the chorus can sing from the piano/violin score and the conductor can lead from the quartet version.

Each of the songs captures a moment that Hila and I shared together. Kala Kalla (which means ‘light bride’) was a pun I came up with while she was first teaching me Hebrew. The bells at the beginning of Eyze Sheleg are the exact pitches that awakened us each morning in Germany as they rang from a nearby cathedral.

These songs are profoundly personal for me, born entirely out of my new love for this soprano, poet, and now my beautiful wife, Hila Plitmann.

Temuna (A Picture)

A picture is engraved in my heart;
Moving between light and darkness:
A sort of silence envelopes your body,
And your hair falls upon your face just so.

Kala Kalla (Light Bride)

Light bride
She is all mine,
And lightly
She will kiss me!

Larov (Mostly)

“Mostly,” said the roof to the sky,
“the distance between you and I is endlessness;
But a while ago two came up here,
And only one centimeter was left between us.”

Eyze Shelleg! (What Snow!)

What snow!
Like little dreams
Falling from the sky.

Rakut (Tenderness)

He was full of tenderness;
She was very hard.
And as much as she tried to stay thus,
Simply, and with no good reason,
He took her into himself,
And set her down
In the softest, softest place.

Hila Plitmann

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  • http://www.youtube.com/user/FreaperX Vita

    The first theme of Kala Kalla is very moving!

  • Ian

    You're an excellent composer Eric. I cant wait to sing this in two weeks.

  • Katherine

    I love these songs so much! The poems are so touching and the way the music tells the story…makes me shiver in a good way :) The beginning of Temuna and the ending of Rakut remind me of the main theme from the 1994 Black Beauty soundtrack.

  • Tanner Dean

    the beginning of temuna reminds me of the theme from "Schindler's List", which had always made me tear up, this just further does that to me, haha

  • Felipe Morales-Torre

    The texts to "Larov" and "Rakut" say so much more. Beautiful.

  • Tanner Dean

    could i get sued if i were to transcribe this into a Tenor solo with piano and a violin for my senior recital in 4 years? :D

  • Brent

    Such gorgeous pieces, and a beautiful performance–though I'd like to point out that the choir is the BYU Concert Choir, not BYU Singers.

  • http://st-rita.tumblr.com/ Rachel Consenz

    I ordered the solo soprano score and it is being sent in the post! I have been in love with these songs since I first heard/performed them in high school choir in 2006, and now I have the great honor of performing the solo soprano version at my senior undergraduate recital in November. Thank you, Eric and Hila, for these beautiful and unique "snapshots" of your love.

  • Sam Kreitzer

    Your music is so inspiring and angelic, so beautiful. I got goosebumps listening to "Eyze Shelleg!" for the first time. I was first introduced to your music when our concert choir sang "Seal Lullaby", and just recently I discovered this website and almost can't stop myself from listening to one song after the next. You have a true gift, Mr. Whitacre, and I hope to someday write music as powerful and touching as yours.

  • Javier

    Eric Whitacre, you are my role model. I've written around 10 0 songs but am too scared to show them to anyone except to my lovely partner. I wish to one day be admired and to impact young people's the way that you do. When your wife sang Eyze Shelleg I cried and cried

  • Marie

    Eric– The solo version of the Love Songs is truly inspiring. I just received my score in the mail and have listened to Hila's performance on the site. There are a few differences in her performance and the printed score; the biggest difference is in Kala kalla, mm.30-33, where the score has the soprano tacet, while in the performance Hila is singing. (Also a small difference in m. 6 of Larov, but I chalk that up to the passion of live performance!) Is the difference in Kala kalla a change on your part in the final score or an error in the printing? You are truly a gift to music. I hope to do these pieces honor when I perform them.

    • http://www.ericwhitacre.com Eric

      Marie,

      I'm afraid I don't have the score with me here in England. Can you tell me which part the soprano is tacet in? Seems strange to me that the soprano would be resting!

      • Marie

        There is nothing for the soprano in measures 30-33 of Kala kalla (page 4 of the score.) If there was some way to email you a scan of the page I'd be happy to do that! Thanks for the quick reply. (I thought it strange as well.)

        Marie

        • http://www.ericwhitacre.com Eric

          Sounds like an error… I think just do what Hila is doing in the recording. Kind of bummed that the printed score has an error that big!

          • Marie

            Can do– I'll transcribe what needs to be done. (Similar thing happened recently to a friend's choral work– something was "lost [or in his case, repeated] in translation")

            No worries. Thanks again.

          • http://www.ericwhitacre.com Eric

            Thanks, Marie, and good luck with your performance!

  • Rebecca McKay

    Sounds beautiful! Amazing moving work

    I was hoping to do these for my grad recital and I was wondering if there is a way to get IPA for the hebrew text? If it is in the score that would be fantastic

    Once again you are a ridiculous talented couple. All the best in your future compositions, I cant wait to hear (sing/play) them all

    Rebecca

    Sleep my child, lux arumque (played and sung), nox arumque, sleep, a boy and a girl, Cloudbursts

    every one a treat!

  • Sara

    "Wow, never knew dissonance could be so restful!" -> my first thought ever about your music (A Boy and A Girl) :)

    You know, Mr Whitacre, you can win over people just by letting them listen to these beauties, but you can totally exhilarate them by letting them sing it! As singer you can put both heart and soul in your music and we're only more than eager to do it!

    We want to keep hearing from you!

    Best wishes for a wonderful 2011.

  • Bryan

    any chance you will have a baritone part for this? Longwood University's Camerata Singers are performing this and I would really love to use this as a solo piece for future use.

  • Kristen

    Five beautiful songs written and set by two amazingly talented people. I quite enjoyed the video of Hila reading the poems in Hebrew – you two are so cute together! Eric, I quite like it that you have written posts explaining a bit of the story behind each song – I find, as a listener, that it adds much more meaning and depth to them.

    My favourite movement is Kala Kalla – I don't know Hebrew at all but I love that it is a pun, and one that works very well too! Hila looked so joyful singing that (and who wouldn't?), and it was a pleasure to watch!

  • Matt

    I would love some help on the harmonics on the 1st and 2nd violin parts in Ezye Sheleg. It appears to me (and my students) that there is some error. Volin can't play a natural harmonic on C or G can they?

    Any suggestions would be much apprieciated!

  • Pingback: Seal Lullaby (everything connects) « city of tongues

  • Sharon

    Attended the master chorale of flagstaff performance of the Hebrew love songs and was in tears the entire time. It was stunning. Thank you for sharing that incredible creation.

  • MGB

    Eric,

    My choir bought the Hebrew Love songs with piano reduction and the parts for strings, but a conductor's score with quartet-acc wasn't included. Is that correct? In that case: where can I get a conductor's score?

    I hope you're willing to answer. Excuse me for my English, it's not my native tongue. God bless.

  • Stacey

    I love this piece! All 5 songs are great! My 8th grade chorus class is doing " Five Hebrew Love Songs'' for our spring concert! (:

  • Britlin L.

    Eyze Shelleg is my favorite of the five, and the story behind it that I heard for the first time at Lincoln Center made it even more beautiful. Thank you for this piece, Eric.

  • Steffen

    Really adorable pieces!

    But did they get used for the soundtrack of "Age of Empires"? When playing the game it sounds exactly the same..

  • Aubrey

    Because it cannot be said enough of all of your pieces, but especially of the Five Hebrew Love Songs (which I am hoping to perform for a late-summer recital) : extraordinary, beautiful work. Yevarekh otkha ha-shem.

  • Sarah

    I am performing these songs for my senior recital in April– and I am so excited! I’m the only Jew at a Baptist university smack dab in the Bible belt, so it’ll be nice to share some of my own background and language with everyone. I did have a different sort of idea, though: would it be permissible/workable if I did everything solo (with violin and piano) except for “Eyze Shelleg”? I just love your arrangement of that for SATB with soloist, so I was thinking I could get my other senior friends up on stage with me to sing the choral parts. Would that be a cool idea, or am I just being lame?

  • Trevor Kaminski

    Hey Mr. Whitacre. To be honest, the first time I heard this piece, I didn’t care for it all that much. Now, I shed a tear every time I listen to it. It totally grew on me. The “Eyze Shelleg!” movement is so haunting. It captures that somber and quiet feeling the environment has on a snowy winter day. I can hear the love you have for your wife in this work.

  • http://www.claremonchoeur.org Cecile Astruc

    Hello M. Witacre, excuse me for the english, I am french and i don’t speak english verry well.
    I’ve recently discovered and I first loved your concept of virtual choir. Then I found your other creations and your 5 Hebrew love songs. I run a small choir in France and I wanted to order the partition of Kala Kalla choir for four voices, but I found that for soprano, violin and piano. Can you tell me where I can get this partition. And thank you again for your inspired work, your humor and your charisma. And I love the voice of Hilla, it is fresh, alive and joyful sensitive. Thank you in advance for your answer.

  • http://www.waltmusic.com Peggy Walt

    Hello there from Halifax, Nova Scotia! We are performing 5 Hebrew Love Songs (SSA version) and we would like to know if we can obtain a copy of the songs in Hebrew (not transliteration)? We have a couple of Hebrew speakers who are helping us with pronunciation, and they’ve asked for that. Is there a copy somewhere we can see? many thanks – todah rabah! The Aeolian Singers

  • Sarah

    The violin part is extremely small in the solo version. Is there a “Whitacre-approved” version of the violin score? There are several that google gives back, but I’d like to know what I’m going to get before I spend more money. Not having a separate violin part is very annoying, Mr. Whitacre.

  • Alicia Mahon

    I just ordered these for solo soprano and hope to perform them at my recital in the fall! I can not WAIT to begin rehearsing them! I just participated in the Sing with Eric at Carnegie Hall, and these were by far my favorite! :)

  • Samantha Kamp

    Your music rests in a special part of my soul. It has guided me through my journey with music. The music that you compose is just magical, astonishing in fact. I deeply commend you for your amazing works. My choir is performing “Five Hebrew Love Songs” the SSA arrangement (All girls school) and I have fallen in love with it. We all admire you for your amazing passion for music and what you have done with it. I look up to you because of your passion and have shown me that music is what I really love and is what I want to do for the rest of my life.

  • Tommy

    This is one of the most beautiful music my ears have had the pleasure of hearing!

  • Sarah Gerbing

    Hi Eric,
    I am curious to see if you would allow me to arrange the Five Hebrew Love Songs for Soprano and Harp. I would love to take these ‘postcards’ everywhere I go with my two instruments :)
    Thank you,
    Sarah Gerbing

  • Brian Gruenewald

    These poems are so tender and mushy! So darn cute! Amazing job, Hila… and beautiful music, Eric!

  • ResolutionMan

    How I wish I would have come discovered the gift of Hebrew when I was young. Now I stare at a life gone by and my younger years wasted in empty pursuits. Only now my prayer is that in HIS infinite grace HE may take my life experience, both good and bad, and make it a Hebraic love song to HIM and help others find the right path to their destiny. Am so amazed at what is happening in my heart because of what you have done. Thank you both for following the river of true life! P.S. Beautiful to see the love you both have for one another. That is symphony perfected..

  • sobrone

    I agree with those that say they love these songs more each time they listen. To me they are slightly different than, say, the first time I ever heard “A Boy and a Girl” performed and I was just floored emotionally. These songs are simple yet deep, passionate yet mischievous all at the same time. They are a different journey, in the listening but they are tender, romantic to the max.

  • enilegnave21

    The beauty in these short works comes largely, I believe, from the mystical nature of the poems.
    They are imbued with a particular yearning… a longing that makes them so terribly human and moving.
    From there, the music just carries you away. I’ll bet that this is how your great love came to be; the words and the music were a perfect symmetry, a complete union of two whole things that combine into something quite more than what they were alone. (so, too, the poetess and the musician.)
    I must say that this piece was my least favorite of all my favorite Whitacres… until I knew the meaning of the lyrics, and then the piece came alive for me. The beauty reaches down into me and wrings me out, then fills me again. An indescribable agony and ecstasy.

  • enilegnave21

    5 little snapshots… Pictures… and quite like Haiku set to music.

About Eric

Eric Whitacre is one of the most popular and performed composers of our time, a distinguished conductor, broadcaster and public speaker. His first album as both composer and conductor on Decca/Universal, Light & Gold, won a Grammy® in 2012, reaped unanimous five star reviews and became the no. 1 classical album in the US and UK charts within a week of release... view full bio