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Ravel “Kaddish” from Deux Mélodies hébraïques, sung by Nina Koschetz

By October 29, 2018March 17th, 2023No Comments

This setting of the Kaddish by Ravel, who was a Catholic, is very famous for its vocal arrangement of the Jewish Prayer.  There are many variations of this prayer in Judaism.  The version selected by Ravel is called the “half Kaddish”.  There is a section sung by the congregation that has been left out.  Also, the Kiddush is not in Hebrew, but rather in Aramaic.  Hebrew had become a religious language, and its close relative, Aramaic was the spoken language of the time the Second Temple and Jesus.  Aramaic is read from right to left.   I will set out a transliteration into roman letters, and English translation, and the original Aramaic.  There are a few things that I should say about this piece.  One is Koshetz does not pronounce the Aramaic 100% correctly (she tends to get the vowels wrong) , but my from ears, it’s pretty close, and the voice is magnificent.  Second, she seems to leave out a few lines.  I have left those lines in because they are part of the lyrics that I obtained, but if you are following along, you will notice that she seems to have missed these lines.

English translation

May His great name be exalted and sanctified.

in the world which He created according to
His will!

May He establish His kingdom
and may His salvation blossom and His anointed be near.

During your lifetime and during your days
and during the lifetimes of all the House of Israel,

speedily and very soon! And say, Amen.
Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted,

Extolled and honoured, adored and lauded

Be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He,

above and beyond all the blessings,
hymns, praises and consolations
that are uttered in the world! And say, Amen.


one_third] Yitgaddal veyitqaddash shmeh rabba

one_third] Beʻalma di vra khir’uteh

veyamlikh malkhuteh
ad veyatzmaḥ purqaneh viqarev (qetz) meshiḥeh

beḥayekhon uvyomekhon
uvḥaye dekhol

a beʻagala uvizman qariv veʼimru amen
Yitbarakh veyishtabbaḥ veyitpaar veyitromam

veyitnasse veyithaddar veyitʻalleh veyithallal

a shmeh dequdsha berikh hu.

leʻella (lʻella mikkol) min kol birkhata
veshirata tushbeḥata veneḥemata
a daamiran beʻalma veʼimru amen


יִתְגַּדַּל וְיִתְקַדַּשׁ שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא‬

בְּעָלְמָא דִּי בְרָא כִרְעוּתֵהּ‬

וְיַמְלִיךְ מַלְכוּתֵהּ‬
וְיַצְמַח פֻּרְקָנֵהּ וִיקָרֵב(קיץ) מְשִׁיחֵהּ‬

בְּחַיֵּיכוֹן וּבְיוֹמֵיכוֹן‬

וּבְחַיֵּי דְכָל
בַּעֲגָלָא וּבִזְמַן קָרִיב. וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן‬
יִתְבָּרַךְ וְיִשְׁתַּבַּח וְיִתְפָּאַר וְיִתְרוֹמַם‬

וְיִתְנַשֵּׂא וְיִתְהַדָּר וְיִתְעַלֶּה וְיִתְהַלָּל‬

‬שְׁמֵהּ דְקֻדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא.‬

לְעֵלָּא (לְעֵלָּא מִכָּל) מִן כָּל בִּרְכָתָא‬
וְשִׁירָתָא תֻּשְׁבְּחָתָא וְנֶחֱמָתָא‬
דַּאֲמִירָן בְּעָלְמָא. וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן‬

Maurice Ravel

Maurice Ravel was a 19th and early 20th century French composer of classical music. His best known works are Bolero and Daphnis et Chloé.

Early Life

Maurice Ravel was born Joseph-Maurice Ravel on March 7, 1875, in Ciboure, France, to a Basque mother and Swiss father. In 1889, at the age of 14, Ravel began taking courses at the Paris Conservatoire, a prestigious music and dance school located in the capital of France, studying under Gabriel Fauré.

When he was seven, Ravel started piano lessons with Henry Ghys, a friend of Emmanuel Chabrier; five years later, in 1887, he began studying harmony, counterpoint and composition with Charles-René, a pupil of Léo Delibes.

In 1888, Ravel met the young pianist Ricardo Viñes, who became not only a lifelong friend, but also one of the foremost interpreters of his works, and an important link between Ravel and Spanish music. The two shared an appreciation of Wagner, Russian music, and the writings of Poe, Baudelaire, and Mallarmé. At the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889, Ravel was much struck by the new Russian works conducted by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. This music had a lasting effect on both Ravel and his older contemporary Claude Debussy, as did the exotic sound of the Javanese gamelan, also heard during the Exposition.

Émile Decombes took over as Ravel’s piano teacher in 1889; in the same year Ravel gave his earliest public performance. Aged fourteen, he took part in a concert at the Salle Érard along with other pupils of Decombes, including Reynaldo Hahn and Alfred Cortot.

Paris Conservatoire

With the encouragement of his parents, Ravel applied for entry to France’s most important musical college, the Conservatoire de Paris. In November 1889, playing music by Chopin, he passed the examination for admission to the preparatory piano class run by Eugène Anthiome. Ravel won the first prize in the Conservatoire’s piano competition in 1891, but otherwise he did not stand out as a student.

Ravel was never so assiduous a student of the piano as his colleagues such as Viñes and Cortot were. It was plain that as a pianist he would never match them, and his overriding ambition was to be a composer. From this point he concentrated on composition. His works from the period include the songs “Un grand sommeil noir” and “D’Anne jouant de l’espinette” to words by Paul Verlaine and Clément Marot, and the piano pieces Menuet antique and Habanera (for four-hands), the latter eventually incorporated into the Rapsodie espagnole. At around this time, Joseph Ravel introduced his son to Erik Satie, who was earning a living as a café pianist. Ravel was one of the first musicians – Debussy was another – who recognised Satie’s originality and talent. Satie’s constant experiments in musical form were an inspiration to Ravel, who counted them “of inestimable value”.

In 1897, Ravel was readmitted to the Conservatoire, studying composition with Fauré, and taking private lessons in counterpoint with André Gedalge. Both these teachers, particularly Fauré, regarded him highly and were key influences on his development as a composer. As Ravel’s course progressed, Fauré reported “a distinct gain in maturity … engaging wealth of imagination”.

In 1899, Ravel composed his first piece to become widely known, though it made little impact initially: Pavane pour une infante défunte (“Pavane for a dead princess”). It was originally a solo piano work, commissioned by the Princesse de Polignac. In 1897 he conducted the first performance of the Shéhérazade overture, which had a mixed reception, with boos mingling with applause from the audience, and unflattering reviews from the critics. One described the piece as “a jolting debut: a clumsy plagiarism of the Russian School” and called Ravel a “mediocrely gifted debutant … who will perhaps become something if not someone in about ten years, if he works hard.” Another critic, Pierre Lalo, thought that Ravel showed talent, but was too indebted to Debussy and should instead emulate Beethoven. Over the succeeding decades Lalo became Ravel’s most implacable critic.

Les Apaches and Debussy

Around 1900, Ravel and a number of innovative young artists, poets, critics, and musicians joined together in an informal group; they came to be known as Les Apaches (“The Hooligans”), a name coined by Viñes to represent their status as “artistic outcasts”. They met regularly until the beginning of the First World War, and members stimulated one another with intellectual argument and performances of their works. The membership of the group was fluid, and at various times included Igor Stravinsky and Manuel de Falla as well as their French friends.

Among the enthusiasms of the Apaches was the music of Debussy. Ravel, twelve years his junior, had known Debussy slightly since the 1890s, and their friendship, though never close, continued for more than ten years. In 1902, André Messager conducted the premiere of Debussy’s opéra Pelléas et Mélisande at the Opéra-Comique. It divided musical opinion. Dubois unavailingly forbade Conservatoire students to attend, and the conductor’s friend and former teacher Camille Saint-Saëns was prominent among those who detested the piece. The Apaches were loud in their support. The first run of the opera consisted of fourteen performances: Ravel attended all of them.

Debussy was widely held to be an impressionist composer – a label he intensely disliked. Many music lovers began to apply the same term to Ravel, and the works of the two composers were frequently taken as part of a single genre.  Ravel thought that Debussy was indeed an impressionist but that he himself was not.

The two composers ceased to be on friendly terms in the middle of the first decade of the 1900s, for musical and possibly personal reasons. Their admirers began to form factions, with adherents of one composer denigrating the other. Disputes arose about the chronology of the composers’ works and who influenced whom.

During the first years of the new century, Ravel made five attempts to win France’s most prestigious prize for young composers, the Prix de Rome, past winners of which included Berlioz, Gounod, Bizet, Massenet and Debussy.  In 1900 Ravel was eliminated in the first round; in 1901 he won the second prize for the competition.  In 1902 and 1903 he won nothing.  In 1905 Ravel, by now thirty, competed for the last time, inadvertently causing a furor. He was eliminated in the first round, which even critics unsympathetic to his music, including Lalo, denounced as unjustifiable.

Ravel was not by inclination a teacher, but he gave lessons to a few young musicians he felt could benefit from them. Manuel Rosenthal was one, and records that Ravel was a very demanding teacher when he thought his pupil had talent. Like his own teacher, Fauré, he was concerned that his pupils should find their own individual voices and not be excessively influenced by established masters. He warned Rosenthal that it was impossible to learn from studying Debussy’s music: “Only Debussy could have written it and made it sound like only Debussy can sound.” When George Gershwin asked him for lessons in the 1920s, Ravel, after serious consideration, refused, on the grounds that they “would probably cause him to write bad Ravel and lose his great gift of melody and spontaneity”. The best known composer who studied with Ravel was probably Ralph Vaughan Williams, who was his pupil for three months in 1907–08. Vaughan Williams recalled that Ravel helped him escape from “the heavy contrapuntal Teutonic manner … Complexe mais pas compliqué was his motto.”

Ravel’s first concert outside France was in 1909. As the guest of the Vaughan Williamses, he visited London, where he played for the Société des Concerts Français, gaining favourable reviews and enhancing his growing international reputation.

1910 to First World War

The Société Nationale de Musique, founded in 1871 to promote the music of rising French composers, had been dominated since the mid-1880s by a conservative faction led by Vincent d’Indy. Ravel, together with several other former pupils of Fauré, set up a new, modernist organization, the Société Musicale Indépendante, with Fauré as its president. The new society’s inaugural concert took place on April 20, 1910; the seven items on the program included premieres of Fauré’s song cycle La chanson d’Ève, Debussy’s piano suite D’un cahier d’esquisses, Zoltán Kodály’s Six pièces pour piano, and the original piano duet version of Ravel’s Ma mère l’Oye. The performers included Fauré, Florent Schmitt, Ernest Bloch, Pierre Monteux and, in the Debussy work, Ravel.  Kelly considers it a sign of Ravel’s new influence that the society featured Satie’s music in a concert in January 1911.

The first of Ravel’s two operas, the one-act comedy L’heure espagnole was premiered in 1911. The work had been completed in 1907, but the manager of the Opéra-Comique, Albert Carré, repeatedly deferred its presentation. He was concerned that its plot – a bedroom farce – would be badly received by the ultra-respectable mothers and daughters who were an important part of the Opéra-Comique’s audience. The piece was only modestly successful at its first production, and it was not until the 1920s that it became popular.

Daphnis et Chloé was commissioned in or about 1909 by the impresario Sergei Diaghilev for his company, the Ballets Russes.  Ravel began work with Diaghilev’s choreographer, Michel Fokine, and designer, Léon Bakst. Fokine had a reputation for his modern approach to dance, with individual numbers replaced by continuous music. This appealed to Ravel, and after discussing the action in great detail with Fokine, Ravel began composing the music. There were frequent disagreements between the collaborators, and the premiere was under-rehearsed because of the late completion of the work. It had an unenthusiastic reception and was quickly withdrawn, although it was revived successfully a year later in Monte Carlo and London. The effort to complete the ballet took its toll on Ravel’s health.

Ravel composed little during 1913. He collaborated with Stravinsky on a performing version of Mussorgsky’s unfinished opera Khovanshchina, and his own works were the Trois poèmes de Mallarmé for soprano and chamber ensemble, and two short piano pieces, À la manière de Borodine and À la manière de Chabrier. In 1913, together with Debussy, Ravel was among the musicians present at the dress rehearsal of The Rite of Spring.  Stravinsky later said that Ravel was the only person who immediately understood the music. Ravel predicted that the premiere of the Rite would be seen as an event of historic importance equal to that of Pelléas et Mélisande.

First World War

When Germany invaded France in 1914, Ravel tried to join the French Air Force. He considered his small stature and light weight ideal for an aviator, but was rejected because of his age and a minor heart complaint.  After several unsuccessful attempts to enlist, Ravel finally joined the Thirteenth Artillery Regiment as a lorry driver in March 1915, when he was forty.  Stravinsky expressed admiration for his friend’s courage: “at his age and with his name he could have had an easier place, or done nothing”. Some of Ravel’s duties put him in mortal danger, driving munitions at night under heavy German bombardment. At the same time his peace of mind was undermined by his mother’s failing health. His own health also deteriorated; he suffered from insomnia and digestive problems, underwent a bowel operation following amoebic dysentery in September 1916, and had frostbite in his feet the following winter.

Ravel’s mother died in January 1917, and he fell into a “horrible despair”, compounding the distress he felt at the suffering endured by the people of his country during the war. He composed few works in the war years. The Piano Trio was almost complete when the conflict began, and the most substantial of his wartime works is Le tombeau de Couperin, composed between 1914 and 1917. The suite celebrates the tradition of François Couperin, the 18th-century French composer; each movement is dedicated to a friend of Ravel’s who died in the war.

After the war, those close to Ravel recognized that he had lost much of his physical and mental stamina. His output, never large, became smaller. Nonetheless, after the death of Debussy in 1918, he was generally seen, in France and abroad, as the leading French composer of the era.  Fauré wrote to him, “I am happier than you can imagine about the solid position which you occupy and which you have acquired so brilliantly and so rapidly. It is a source of joy and pride for your old professor.”  Ravel was offered the Légion of Honour in 1920, and although he declined the decoration, he was viewed by the new generation of composers typified by Satie’s protégés Les Six as an establishment figure. Through the Société Musicale Indépendente, he was able to encourage them and composers from other countries. The Société presented concerts of recent works by American composers including Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson and George Antheil and by Vaughan Williams and his English colleagues Arnold Bax and Cyril Scott.

The last composition Ravel completed in the 1920s, Boléro, became his most famous. He was commissioned to provide a score for Ida Rubinstein’s ballet company, and having been unable to secure the rights to orchestrate Albéniz’s Iberia, he decided on “an experiment in a very special and limited direction … a piece lasting seventeen minutes and consisting wholly of orchestral tissue without music.” Ravel continued that the work was “one long, very gradual crescendo. There are no contrasts, and there is practically no invention except the plan and the manner of the execution. The themes are altogether impersonal”. He was astonished, and not wholly pleased, that it became a mass success. When one elderly member of the audience at the Opéra shouted “Rubbish!” at the premiere, he remarked, “That old lady got the message!” The work was popularized by the conductor Arturo Toscanini, and has been recorded several hundred times. Ravel commented to Arthur Honegger, one of Les Six, “I’ve written only one masterpiece – Boléro. Unfortunately there’s no music in it.”

Ravel  died on 28 December, at the age of 62.

Nina Koshetz

Koshetz was born in Kiev and came from a musical family. Both of her parents had been stars of the Imperial Opera in Moscow. Her father was the first Siegfried to be heard in Russia. Nina was a very musical child starting playing the piano with four. She gave her first piano recital at the age of nine .  After her father’s suicide, she enrolled at the Moscow Conservatory. She studied piano with Konstantin Igumnoff and Vasily Safonov and composition with Sergei Taneiev. Graduating at 16, she had performed a Rachmaninov concerto for her final recital. She subsequently became interested in singing and she was eventually instructed by Enzo Masetti and Félia Litvinne. Konstantin Stanislavsky was her coach in dramatic arts. It is not sure when she made her debut. It seems her real career began with a performance as Tatyana in Eugene Onegin with Zimin’s Opera Company. Until 1917 she appeared there in operas such as The Queen of Spades, The Tsar’s Bride, The Demon, The Enchantress, Tosca, Nedda, Marguerite, Nedda and Aida. Like all Russian singers she made lengthy tours to the provinces. She was never invited to the Bolshoi Theatre. She not only sang opera but gave song recitals. Her fame soon spread and the composers Tcherepnin, Medtner, Gretchaninov and Prokofiev wanted to collaborate with the young singer. Serge Koussevitzky and Nina Koshetz brought music to the outlying regions, she was his soloist for many years. In 1914 she made her first recordings (only two are known). In 1915 she met Sergei Rachmaninov and they appeared together in successful recitals, culminating in a romance (the composer was 20 years older than Nina and a married man). He dedicated to her a cycle of six love songs (op. 38). To avoid a scandal, Rachmaninov retreated and amazingly, they rarely saw each other again. After the Revolution she remained at Zimin’s Opera which had reopened now under another name. After a stop-over in the Caucasus she eventually arrived in the United States (with husband and child).

She made her official American debut as a soloist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under Ossip Gabrilowitch in 1920 and was warmly received. Mary Garden invited her to sing the role of Fata Morgana in Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges. She was now in demand for concerts and recitals by Stokowski, Koussevitzky, Rodzinski and Klemperer. Considered as one of her greatest achievements in the 1920s was the series of four Town Hall recitals celebrating for the most part Russia’s greatest songwriters in which Pierre Luboshutz, Walter Damrosch and Samuel Chotzinov all accompanied her. She became the authoritative voice for the Russian emigré composers. In 1924 she returned to Félia Litvinne, now living in Paris and Koshetz received further vocal tuition by the famous soprano. In 1927, commemorating her 15 years in music, she gave a recital devoted entirely to songs dedicated to her. The composer Gretchaninov renewed the collaboration with her and both were enthusiastically admired. Around 1934, she moved to California with her second husband and her daughter. She opened a Russian restaurant but this venture ended in bankruptcy two years later. By 1942 she opened an elegant music salon in Laguna Beach and taught singing to Marlene Dietrich, Ann Blyth and Claudette Colbert. Her daughter Marina made her successful debut at Town Hall in 1949. Nina Koshetz played some minor roles in films. Her unorthodox lifestyle caused a vocal decline in the late 1930s and ruined slowly but steadily her health. Nina Koshetz died in 1965.