The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Piano Accompaniments in Hebrew Song Recordings by Kol Israel in the 1950s

During the 1950s hundreds of Hebrew song recordings were produced non-commercially by Kol Israel, and saved in broadcasting records (replaced in 1960 by tapes). The Israeli National Library digitized them around 2010, and later made them available online. The accompaniment in these recordings is based on Classical music norms: piano, instrumental ensemble or symphonic orchestra.

A small group of pianists played in most of the recordings with piano: composers Moshe Wilensky and Nachum Nardi (who also features in commercial recordings), Avner Aharon, Max Lempel, Zippora Miron, Hilda Halperin and the most active Moshe Lustig and Arie Sachs. The accompaniments seldom merely support the harmonies of the songs. Rather, they are artistically active, to various degrees, as in a Romantic Lied.

Examining these piano recordings reveals diverse findings. Some accompaniments were fully written. These are found in print or manuscript, or lost but indicated by the exact reproduction by different pianists or in recordings with different singers. Even then, often pianists made transpositions, probably by heart, to fit singers’ voices.

Most accompaniments were improvised. These, too, adhere to artistic norms of piano accompaniment: sometimes the piano takes the main melody (as when opera singer Shoshana Shoshan sings virtuosic coloraturas above the melody played by the piano); independent passages occur between the musical units; sometimes balance and tempo are intentionally modified through the song; and accompaniments regularly include contrapuntal imitations on long held tones in the sung melody (as in Moshe Lustig’s and Arie Sach’s different accompaniments for “Hachnisini”). Among the most intriguing findings, Arie Sachs’s accompaniment of the oriental tune Ahuva Bogeda imitates a qanun.

In 1958, the recordings accompaniments with guitar start to replace those with piano, which become exceptional in later years.