The Palestine Suite
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The Palestine Suite, which dates from Scharf’s first decade in Hollywood, preceded the birth of the State of Israel; hence, its title. When his grandmother died, in 1941, Scharf was inspired to write a Jewish work in tribute to her memory. She had been active in charitable work on behalf of disadvantaged and needy Jews on New York’s Lower East Side and was chairman of Moyshe k'tana (lit., Little Moses), the Hebrew Orphan Society. Scharf composed this suite that year, on his return to California following her funeral, while he was working at Twentieth Century Fox Studios.
There is little attempt here to mirror any Palestinian song motifs. The first movement, River Jordan, calls forth the expanse of that river not only geographically, but across time. The music depicts its undulating waters, at once calm and majestic, with a kind of ancient, biblical authority. The second movement, Andante, suggests, in its continuous restful chant, strains of Yiddish lullabies from eastern Europe rather than any Near Eastern melos. The overall jubilance of the third movement, titled Celebration, presents exciting orchestral gestures—but again, against quintessential rhythms of eastern European Jewish wedding bands (klezmorim) and fused with tune fragment and modal-scalar clichés that could have emanated from the pits of Second Avenue theaters where his mother, Bessie Zwerling, was a star of the Yiddish stage. These two minutes are, however, no raw klezmer improvisation, but an expertly and tastefully crafted miniature. The Palestine Suite was given its premiere under the baton of Werner Janssen over CBS radio in 1941. Leopold Stokowski later conducted it at the Hollywood Bowl.