Lahav Shani adapts Jerusalem anthem for half-Iranian soloist

Lahav Shani adapts Jerusalem anthem for half-Iranian soloist


norman lebrecht

June 25, 2018

Naomi Shemer’s song Jerusalem of Gold was the soundtrack to the 1967 Israel-Arab war.

Now, the incoming music director of the Israel Philharmonic has arranged it for piano (himself), violin (Renaud Capucon) and the Austrian-Iranian cellist Kian Soltani.

It received a rapturous premiere this weekend.

The 1967 originaL


  • Helene Kamioner says:

    Jerusalem of Gold

    English Translation

    The mountain air is clear as wine
    And the scent of pines
    Is carried on the breeze of twilight
    With the sound of bells.

    And in the slumber of tree and stone
    Captured in her dream
    The city that sits solitary
    And in its midst is a wall.

    Jerusalem of gold,
    and of bronze, and of light
    Behold I am a violin
    for all your songs.

    We have returned to the cisterns
    To the market and to the market-place
    A ram’s horn (shofar) calls out
    (i.e. is being heard) on the Temple Mount
    In the Old City.

    And in the caves in the mountain
    Thousands of suns shine –
    We will once again descend to the Dead Sea
    By way of Jericho!

    Jerusalem of gold,
    and of bronze and of light
    Behold I am a violin for all your songs.

    But as I come to sing to you today,
    And to adorn crowns to you (i.e. to tell your praise)
    I am the smallest of the youngest
    of your children (i.e. the least worthy of doing so)
    And of the last poet (i.e. of all the poets born).

    For your name scorches the lips
    Like the kiss of a seraph
    If I forget thee, Jerusalem,
    Which is all gold…

    Jerusalem of gold, and of bronze, and of light
    Behold I am a violin for all your songs.

  • william osborne says:

    I think there could be some interesting musicological studies of how 19th century cultural nationalism formulated many of the ideals of Zionism, and how this has been expressed through music just as was in Europe and the USA. As Europe began breaking up into nation states during the 19th century based on culture and even race, composers ranging from Weber to Dvorak to Verdi to Wagner all expressed nationalist aspirations through their music.

    Even in the USA, visions of “Manifest Destiny” were expressed through music, most commonly in popular songs like “The Flag of Texas,” “The Texas and Oregon March,” “Westward Ho!,” “Wait for the Wagon,” and “We Cross the Prairie as of Old.”

    One could compare the cultural Zionism of Asher Ginsberg (1856-1927) with the secular Zionist vision of Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) and study how these two concepts of Zionism might present differing manifestations of cultural expression.

    Concepts attendant to cultural nationalism in Europe and America produced horrific atrocities. In Europe they culminated in two World Wars, and in the USA through genocide against the Native Americans, and the stealing at gun point of about one third of Mexico’s territory (essentially the entire American Southwest and California.)

    It’s interesting that some forms of Zionism face similar criticisms of expansionism and colonialism. Could something be learned from such a study that might guide us to a better future, to more reasonable and humane ways of formulating and expressing cultural and national aspirations?

    • Petros Linardos says:

      I believe the kind of study you are thinking of would be an interdisciplinary study with a big emphasis on political science.

      At a more musicological level, I was intrigued and a little amused when taking a quick look at the origins of Israel’s two national anthems, Hatikva and Jerusalem of Gold.

      – Hatikva can be traced back La Mantovana, a popular sixteenth-century song. The tune has found its way across Europe. A famous theme from Vltava in Smetana’s Ma Vlast sounds recognizably similar. So La Mantovana is the basis of one of the most famous tunes in one of the most famous European nationalist works.

      Amusingly, there is a delightful Greek childrens’ song about a donkey that also sounds recognizably similar to La Mantovana:

      – Jerusalem of Gold: some of the song’s melody is based on a Basque lullaby, Pello Joxepe, composed by Juan Francisco Petriarena ‘Xenpelar’ (1835–1869).

      Spielberg used it in the ending of Schindler’s List, when the inmates leave the concentration camp behind. Confusing, considering that the song wasn’t known in that form until the Seven-Day war.

      So, these melodies don’t seem to have Jewish origins. Does it matter? National songs with non national origins may not be that uncommon. America the Beautiful and The Star Spangled Banner instantly come to mind.

      I am not prepared to start drawing conclusions. In this case I feel more like a curious student asking questions. Any insights will be appreciated.

      PS: The trio performance by Shani & Co sounded beautiful to my ears.

      • william osborne says:

        One of the ironies of cultural nationalism is that its conceptions of identity and authenticity are often vaguely drawn because all societies are more mixed than they want to admit. There are no clear lines that divide cultures and communities. We like to pretend there are, and this leads to a lot of slaughter.

        The falafel war is an example, both Arabs and Israelis trying to claim they invented it. Consensus lies with the Arabs, but falafel is something like the national food of Israel. Hence a big food fight.

        One of the characteristics of colonialism and expansionism is that it is considered an epic event and is always accompanied by song and saga. Another characteristic of cultural nationalism and violence is that it most often occurs when nation states are young. Germany and Italy both became nation states very late, not until 1870, and both became militaristic and expansionist. Now Israel is a young state and going through the same process.

        By the second half of the 20th century, cultural nationalism fell out of favor in Europe, and even in the USA, due to the impossibility of drawing clear cultural lines, and due to the catastrophic violence it caused – about 80 million dead in Europe in the 20th century. The Balkan War was the latest manifestation.

        Just like Europe and the USA, Israel will likely go through the same process: expansionism, colonialism, slaughter, and about a hundred years down the line, a return to a more cosmopolitan understanding of human societies.

        • Helene Kamioner says:

          I beg to differ. Jews have been doing the very exact same thing since Abraham, and our traditions, beliefs and laws are the bane of our existence despite all failed attempts to change and vernicht us.

          • william osborne says:

            There are some similarities, but 19th century cultural nationalism is something different than the monarchies of the ancient world. One could also draw corollaries to Arabic and Islamic expansionism beginning in the 7th century, but again, 19th century cultural nationalism is distinct in several ways.

            Another difference, and one where the situation today is distinct form 19th century cultural nationalism, is that some varieties of Islam and Zionism are theocratic, which makes the problems even more intractable.

  • Helene Kamioner says:

    Couldn’t we call it Jewish Soul Music, not forgetting the great Eastern European Yiddish melodies and texts.

  • Heath says:

    Beautiful rendition, but nothing like the original. Thanks for posting!

  • Helene Kamioner says:

    Me. Osborne, I follow your line of thinking, but I wonder if you might give me some or one example….other than Satmar Chasidim…as to how today’s Israeli government is theocratic?

    • william osborne says:

      I didn’t say Israel has a theocratic goverment. I said that some varieties of Islam and Zionism are theocratic. Even if the religious right has a good deal of influence in Israel, I think it unlikely that the government would become theocratic.

  • Manny says:

    Osborne’s comments on a beautiful landmark of a song, practically an anthem, are out of place and disgusting. Leave this treasure alone.

    • william osborne says:

      I find the song beautiful and moving, but its reception depends on which side of the divide one is one. As Martin Buber noted, peace will be found by trying to understand the perspectives of the other.

  • Helene Kamioner says:

    Martin Buber

    German Jewish Existentialist philosopher and theologian

    ‘When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.’

    Martin Buber was an Austrian-born Israeli Jewish philosopher best known for his philosophy of dialogue, a form of existentialism centered on the distinction between the I–Thou relationship and the I–It relationship.

    Born: February 8, 1878, Vienna
    Died: June 13, 1965, Jerusalem
    Nationality: Austrian, Israeli