daily kaddish: for Lev Kogan on his Yahrtzeit

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Today’s Kaddish is for the composer of the “Kaddish” at the center of the “kaddish in two-part harmony,” Lev Kogan. According to the Israel Composers’ League, Kogan was:

Born in the USSR, 1927. Settled in Israel in 1972. Between 1946-1952 Kogan attended the Moscows State Conservatory where he studied piano and was a composition student of Aram Khatchturian. He has devoted much time to the research, creation and performance of Jewish music. Kogan was awarded the title ‘Honored Artist’ by the goverment of the USSR. Among his compositions are many work for ballet, musicals, opera, film and for television as well as 250 Yiddish songs in Israel, creates many productions for the Yiddish theater and Chassidic, Yiddish songs and music.

Keren Ezrati, a student of Kogan’s, compiled a catalog  of his works and wrote a brief biography. She describes how this came about in Israel Studies in Musicology Online, Vol 6 (2007–08):

I met the composer in 2003, when he agreed to teach me privately music history and theory. During one of our many more personal conversations, Kogan confessed that there was no proper documentation of his compositions. I suggested that we compile a comprehensive work list together. We were privileged to complete this task before he passed away in June 2007. This work list below is therefore the first professional documentation of Kogan’s oeuvre, based upon his drafts and personal diaries.

Ezrati’s paper (available in a Hebrew PDF) elaborates that Kogan was born in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, began playing piano by ear at age four, and began studying music in school at age 7. While studying with Michael Gnessin at the Institute Gnessin in Moscow, Kogan wrote a symphony that got him kicked out of the institute, because it allegedly contained hints of the Israeli anthem “התקווה”. He was eventually readmitted after a special committee conducted a comparison, but this wasn’t the last time that official anti-Semitism would cast a shadow on his career successes.

He continued his studies with the Armenian composer Aram Khatchaturian, whose encouragement and example led Kogan to make heavy use of his own (officially unacceptable) cultural roots, weaving Jewish, Moldavian-Romanian, and Caucasian musical elements into his compositional style. Khatchaturian also advised him, however, to drop his Jewish surname. Kogan kept his name, though, and at the age of 32, he completed a highly successful three-act ballet that won recognition at the Bolshoi and an honorary degree in the Soviet Union—despite his name. This was only the first of many successful works for the ballet.

Communist restrictions forced him to keep secret his work on Hebrew songs and other Jewish music. These were mainly arrangements of Israeli songs he learned also in secret, listening to Israeli radio and records he received from the Israeli embassy. After emigrating to Israel in 1972, he worked primarily on Jewish music, and his reactions to the Yom Kippur War led to a great many compositions in this vein. He wrote “Kaddish” for solo horn in 1979, and it received its first performance in 1981 in Tel Aviv by Meir Rimon, to whom it is dedicated.

Kogan lived in Jaffa with his wife, actress Ethel Kovnskah, until his death on June 7, 2007.

A Kaddish for Lev Kogan, on his Yahrtzeit.

About erin

Erin Vang, PMP, BMus, MMus, is Owner and Principal Pragmatist of the consultancy Global Pragmatica LLC®, offering custom JMP scripting, localization program management, and facilitative leadership services. She is also an orchestral horn player who freelances in the San Francisco Bay Area and plays assorted brass for the celebrated dance bands Midnight Smørgåsbord and contraPtion. More about Erin…
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