Paul Schoenfield: British Folk Songs/Sparks of Glory


Six British Folk Songs, a six-movement suite for cello and piano, was written in the summer of 1985 as a tribute to the cellist Jacqueline du Pre. It was commissioned by the Sewell family and premiered by cellist Laura Sewell, who had been a student of du Pre. The texts of the original songs, which in some cases are quite lengthy, can be summarized as follows:

Jack Tar (TRACK 1): a classic tale of Sailor Jack on shore leave, embarking on an epic spree; The Basket of Eggs (TRACK 2): a ballad about the sailor who is tricked into paying for the woman he deserted and the child he fathered; The Gypsy Laddie (TRACK 3): an encounter depicting the sad fate of a man who is visited by a band of gypsies and joins them; The Parting Kiss (TRACK 4): a heart throbbing description of two lovers who must part forever; The Lousy Tailor (TRACK 5) a tale of pusillanimity - a butcher lies with a tailor's wife while he forces her husband to wait patiently under the bed; and A Dream of Napoleon (TRACK 6): early in his career, Napoleon was admired by many radicals including the English and Irish Jacobins. This song is but one of many English ballads dealing with Napoleon's liberations.

While each of the movements in this work is a complete piece in itself, there are various discernable motivic elements used throughout which provide cohesion to the suite as a whole. To this end, the listener might also perceive some other devices which are utilized to guide the work's overall dramatic design, the most obvious being the gradual increase in tempos of the odd-numbered movements and the gradual decrease in the even-numbered. And although the movements steadily increase in length, the ratio of duration between adjacent movements remains constant throughout.


B'demayich Chai (TRACK 7); My Name is Chaim (TRACK 8); A Bottle of Brandy (TRACK 9) and Lomir Zich Iberbeiten (TRACK 10). Sparks of Glory, scored for violin, clarinet, cello, piano and narrator, was written in 1995 for the Sea Cliff Chamber Players. It was commissioned by the Tilles family, who had specifically requested a work with narrator commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. For this purpose, I could think of nothing more fitting than the accounts written by the Polish-Israeli journalist Moshe Prager.

Prager had been a journalist for the Warsaw daily, Das Yiddishe Tageblatt. When Nazi Germany invaded Poland, he became a secret worker for the Joint Distribution Committee and helped convince its officials that since it was under the legal protection of the United States, which was then still neutral, the JDC was in a unique position to carry on relief and rescue activities. With the help of his friend Stephan Porayski, Polish director of the Warsaw office of an Italian shipping firm, Prager was able to smuggle himself and the Gerrer Rebbe, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter, to what was then British-controlled Palestine. It was there in 1952 that Prager published his first collection of stories, Mitzotzei Gevurah-Sparks of Glory.

In the introduction to this collection, the author writes:

"Amid the black clouds which billow out of the Holocaust of European Jewry, there are many flying sparks and flashes of human elevation, precious gems of Jewish courage are strewn about, hidden from sight. Who will go down and retrieve them? The works inscribed on this scroll are all witnesses. They were taken down directly from the heroes of the stories who themselves did not realize they were heroes. These are true stories. They are all factual. They are all accurately recorded. And if they appear to border on the miraculous, it is because they mirror an age of miracles. And if they make the soul tremble, it is because they are echoes of a terrible and lofty time."

I wish to thank lyricist Frank Oteri for his help in condensing these stories and making them suitable for a concert presentation.

Notes provided by Paul Schoenfield


A native of Detroit born in 1947, Paul Schoenfield began musical training at age six, eventually studying piano with Julius Chajes, Ozan Marsh and Rudolf Serkin. He holds a degree from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Arizona. A man of broad interests, he is also an avid scholar of mathematics and Hebrew. He held his first teaching post in Toledo, has lived on a kibbutz in Israel, was a free-lance composer and pianist in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and ultimately moved to Cleveland and then to Israel. Schoenfield and his family now divide their time between Israel and the United States.

The composer has received commissions and grants from the NEA, the Ohio Arts Commission, Chamber Music America, the Rockefeller Fund, the Minnesota Commissioning Club, American Composers Forum, Soli Deo Gloria of Chicago, and many other organizations. Although he is not now active as a touring pianist, he has in the past toured the United States, Europe and South America as both a soloist and with chamber groups including Music from Marlboro. Among his recordings are the complete violin and piano works of Bartok with Sergiu Luca.

Schoenfield's compositions can be heard on the Decca, Vanguard, EMI, Koch, Angel, BMG and the New World labels and are published by Davidge Publishing and C. Schirmer. This recording represents his debut on Albany.

Mr. Schoenfield has produced a large body of music for soloists, chamber ensembles and orchestra, and recently completed a full-length folk opera, The Merchant and the Pauper, commissioned by the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.


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