Tzadik (1983), Leo Smit

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Tzadik (1983), Leo Smit
Year of Composition: 1983     Composed for the ASQ

Recordings

Milken Archive: Smit: Tzadik
Amherst Saxophone Quartet, Leo Smit "Tzadik"
Susan Fancher, soprano
Russ Carere, alto
Stephen Rosenthal, tenor
Harry Fackelman, baritone
1983

Leo Smit's "Tzadik" was composed for the ASQ in 1983.

Leo Smit writes: "The tzadik, who appeared in remote and isolated Jewish villages of Eastern Europe nearly 300 years ago, was the maker of wonders and miracles through his joyfully ecstatic music, suffusing the "soul of the Universe" with his divinely inspired song.

My Tzadik makes use of a variety of Jewish sources — an ancient Passover song of Babylonian origin, Kabbalistic chant, an Eastern Ashkenazic folk song, and a 19th century Russian melody. Towards the end of the piece, Mozart's birdman, Papageno, unaccountably joins in a village wedding dance, which is interrupted by fanfares of Shofars, a biblical trumpet made of a ram's horn. Tzadik ends with a return to the opening Kaddish, a prayer in memory of the dead. — Leo Smit"

Here's a link to purchase the CD on iTunes: Tzadik, Leo Smit, ASQ

Review

Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Monday, October 5, 1992
Sax quartet opens new season in new home
Herman Trotter

Smaller hall at Nichols School embelishes the group's expertise
The Amherst Saxophone Quartet opened its 15th year Sunday evening in a new home base, the wood-paneled Boocock Library on the Nichols School's Amherst Street campus.

This site is smaller than such previous series locations as Rockwell Hall, the Historical Society Auditorium and Canisius College's Christ the King Chapel. As a result the ensemble's sound seemed closer, more intimate, and perhaps even a bit louder than we were accustomed to, but the library'S vaulted ceiling and wood paneling also lent a welcome richness and warmth to the sonority so that the new location seems entirely hospitable.

For this concert The quartet also was seated in a straight line facing the audience instead of the usual rectangular pattern facing each other. There were a few times, mostly in the opening Bach "Fugue a la Gigue," when the greater difficulty in making eye contact seemed to effect the ASQ's usual seamless ensemble.

But their customary spirited playing was very much in evidence during the trademark concluding group of highly amiable jazz and ragtime pieces, which included premieres of four works by the ensemble's alto saxophonist Russ Carere, not necessarily intended to be played together but offered in succession this time.

The jazz derived works were "Rainbows" and "Take Off," the former built on gently fluttering layered lines with solos arching over-top and pulsing accompaniment, while the latter was a mellow and mildly pungent rumination ultimately dominated by an entreating, wailing melodic figure.

Carere's ragtime pieces were the easy swinging "River Walk," based on a jaunty three-note falling and rising figure, and the more rapid and angular "Falconer Street."

Soprano saxophonist Sal Andolina's arrangement of Zez Confrey's "Audacity" was flat-out ragtime, rollicking and rolling along to conclude the program in the prototypical ASQ manner.

For me the meatiest part of the program was Leo Smit's "Tzadik." The Buffalo-based composer says the title refers to revered Hasidic secular leaders able to conjure mystic spells. The music had this quality in abundance, opening in an incantation of deep chordal dissonance, going on to a series of primal shouts, a joyous street dance like a hora, some plodding but hypnotically fascinating processional passages and even a static but subtle progression reminiscent of a Schoenbergian "klangfarbenmelodie" (tone color melody).

It's a very episodic piece of some 15 minutes duration, but the ASQ's understanding, commitment and musicianship made it all hang together very effectively.

Representing the standard sax quartet literature was Pierre Lantier's 1942 "Andante and Scherzetto," offering sonorities which seemed particularly smooth and suave after the Yiddish chatter and wails of "Tzadik." The Andante, although music absolutely without a program, is the kind of rhapsody which can evoke bright, shining Spring days. The ASQ played it with gentle, undulating line and superb ensemble balance, while the Scherzetto, with its jaunty melody recalling "We're off to see the Wizard," made a brief and delightfully capricious finale.

Music of another Buffalo-based composer, Rocco Di Pietro, opened the second half. His "Souvenirs from Bellini's 'Norma'" was unashamed bel canto fine-lined melody over typically thin harmonization and repetitive oom-pah-pah supporting figurations. It was altogether engaging, and played with an obvious understanding of bel canto essences.

Rainbows, Russ Carere
Take Off, Russ Carere
Falconer Street, Russ Carere
Tzadik (1983), Leo Smit
Andante et Scherzetto, Pierre Lantier
Souvenirs from Bellini's Norma (1984), Rocco Di Pietro
River Walk, Russ Carere
Sax quartet opens new season in new home

Composer Biography

1921 — 1999

Leo Smit began the study of piano and theory with his father, a professional violinist, at the age of five. Mr. Smit later studied at the Moscow Conservatory and the Curtis Institute of Music. His teachers included Dmitri Kabalevsky, Isabelle Vengerova, Jose Iturbi and Nicholas Nabokov. In the 1930's and 40's Mr. Smit was pianist with George Balanchine's American Ballet Company, an association that brought him into personal meetings with Igor Stravinsky, and the New York City Symphony, of which Leonard Bernstein was then music director. Mr. Smit made his debut as concert pianist in Carnegie Hall in New York, on February 17, 1939. This was followed a year later by an American tour. In 1950, he was awarded both the Fulbright Fellowship in piano and the Guggenheim Fellowship in composition. Between 1953 and 1955 he toured Europe and in 1967-68 he performed extensively throughout Latin America under the auspices of the U.S. Department of State. In addition to performances in recitals and in recordings, he was heard as guest performer with major orchestras both in the United States and abroad, most notably in 20th-century concertos.

Over the years Mr. Smit has composed a wide variety of works including symphonies, choral pieces, chamber music, and operas. His Symphony No. 1 in E-flat won the New York Music Critics Circle Award.

Mr. Smit taught piano and composition at the State University of New York at Buffalo for twenty years, and has performed many times in Buffalo. This concert, however, marks his first Western New York performance since his academic retirement in 1984.


[From University at Buffalo]

Leo Smit was fond of quoting the following passage from a letter that Beethoven wrote in 1812 to a young musical admirer named Emilie. In a way it serves as a credo for the extraordinarily rich musical and artistic life that Leo Smit led.

Persevere, do not only practice your art, but endeavor also to fathom its inner meaning; it deserves this effort. For only art and knowledge can raise men to the level of gods.

Leo Smit's career as composer, pianist, conductor, and educator spanned seven decades of musical life in the United States. He established close working relationships, and/or friendships, with many of the most prominent musicians of the 20th century, incl uding Igor Stravinsky, Béla Bartók, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Harold Shapero, William Schuman, Alex Haieff, Leopold Stokowski, and Lukas Foss. As a performer, Smit was an enthusiastic and persuasive advocate and interpreter of the mu sic of his time, especially the solo piano music of Aaron Copland. His compositional output totals more than one hundred works, including two operas, three symphonies, more than ninety songs, two ballets, and numerous chamber and piano works.

Smit was also a talented photographer. In addition to the many photographs he took of noted musicians, Smit also used his skill as a photographer to capture images from his travels. Many of his travel pictures reflect his reverence for nature. As part of his innovative approach to programming, Smit would often include displays of his photography in his theme-based concerts.

During his career Leo Smit earned several awards and honors, including Fulbright (piano) and Guggenheim (composition) Fellowships in 1950, a fellowship at the American Academy in Rome for 1950-51, the Boston Symphony Merit Award in 1953 for his Symphony No. 1 (premiered October 16, 1953 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Charles Munch), the New York Critics Circle Award in 1957 (also for his Symphony No. 1), his selection as an artist for a State Department concert tour of Latin America in 1967-68, and the Buffalo Evening News Man of the Year award in 1969. As an educator, Smit held positions at Sarah Lawrence College (1947-49), UCLA (1957-63), and the State University of New York at Buffalo (1962-84).

This online exhibit is principally based upon an exhibit held at the State University of New York at Buffalo Music Library in April 2000. The Music Library gratefully acknowledges the loan of materials from the estate of Leo Smit by Nils Vigeland.

View this University at Buffalo online exhibit.

Composition Notes

The tzadik, who appeared in remote and isolated Jewish villages of Eastern Europe nearly 300 years ago, was the maker of wonders and miracles through his joyfully ecstatic music, suffusing the "soul of the Universe" with his divinely inspired song.

My Tzadik makes use of a variety of Jewish sources — an ancient Passover song of Babylonian origin, Kabbalistic chant, an Eastern Ashkenazic folk song, and a 19th century Russian melody. Towards the end of the piece, Mozart's birdman, Papageno, unaccountably joins in a village wedding dance, which is interrupted by fanfares of Shofars, a biblical trumpet made of a ram's horn. Tzadik ends with a return to the opening Kaddish, a prayer in memory of the dead. — Leo Smit