The success of the Chanson hébraïque
led in 1914 to a commission from Alvina Alvi, a soprano with the St Petersburg Opera, to harmonize two further Hebrew melodies. Kaddisch
(in Aramaic, ‘qaddish’) is a liturgical chant, the Magnificat of the synagogue service, but also sung by mourners after the death of a close relative. The mood is one of contained ecstasy, and tension is built out of the jarring between the melismata of the voice and the simple accompaniment with its unremitting G naturals. L’énigme éternelle
is, by contrast, squarely metrical. The eternal puzzle of existence resolves into tra-la-las and the harshly repetitive accompaniment underlines the futility of pursuing the topic, in line with the composer’s agnostic stance that he found it hard enough to fathom his own motives without trying to understand those of a celestial Being.
from notes by Roger Nichols © 2009