Dr. Sofia Gelman

"Without music, life would be a mistake."

F. Nietzsche

Disturbing solitude locked in the pages of creation of the composer Sergiu Natra is discerned only by those knowing his music. To penetrate the mysteries of meaning in the perfect sense of the word, signifies discovering the meaning of the message conveyed by the author through the sound of art. Works signed by his personality create a spirit sui generis which, although extremely complex and diverse, always bears the unmistakable stamp of his style.

Born in Bucharest (1924), Sergiu Natra studied composition with Leon Klepper until graduating from the Music Academy of Bucharest in 1954. His works March and Choral together with Divertimento in ancient style would grant him the Enescu prize in 1945, the last year that Enescu himself participated in awarding prizes bearing his name. Sergiu Natra with his wife, the sculptor / painter / poet Sonia established in Israel in 1961.

A year later the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, interpret one of the last works composed in Romania, between 1958 - 1961, when, after the couple had submitted their papers to go to Israel they had been under ban from publication and exercising any professional activities. 

Between the years 1975 - 1985 Sergiu Natra had taught at the Academy in Tel-Aviv University, composition, analysis, forms and twentieth century music. His creations had gained great success in the country but also abroad, numerous awards testify to the appreciation that he enjoyed. (Pars pro toto: Milo Prize, Engel Prize, ACUM Prize, Palti Prize, Prime Minister Prize).

The diversity of Sergiu Natra’s creations – from the works for piano, two pianos / four hands, different chamber music formations, until the works for orchestra – includes a wide palette of interest for various instrument ensembles, but it appears that the harp is a preferred instrument of the author ...

S.G. - Dear Maestro, please reveal the secret: what is the source of your passion for the harp? If we go through your creation path, the harp is already present from the early 60’s. On the other hand, the diversity of instruments which you use reveals a continuing passion for special sound configurations ...

S.N. - Before answering your questions, I would like to mention to the readers that this interview is a dialogue with a colleague of mine. Despite the difference in generations, I respond to a musician, herself a composer with a considerable length of teaching at the Music Academy of the Tel-Aviv University, where I also worked in the past. The book Imitative Polyphony received as a gift from you, written based on your PhD dissertation, sustained in the time when you were an assistant in the Academy of Music G. Dima in Cluj, is the work of an important personality in the musical analysis domain. Since our dialogue has to appear in a magazine that addresses a broad public, I will try to express myself in a language intended not only for specialists in music.

If you ask me about my passions, my passion is to build an expressive language in which characteristics and different colors of instruments are important. A composer must possess all the instrument techniques, whether it is the violin, clarinet, trombone, or of course the harp; especially, when using all the technical possibilities of the instrument as a soloist. Here is an example: two class musicians, violinist Lucian Savin and harpist Rozalia Bulacu, husband and wife, good friends of mine, asked me to compose a work for violin and harp for a future concert. I asked Rozalia to deepen my knowledge about all the expression elements of the harp. Thus was born my composition Music for Violin and Harp. Following the experience acquired, I composed in 1962, Sonatina for Harp. 

S.G. - For years, your name is somewhat synonymous with all that is organized around the harp; national and international competitions, festivals or concerts dedicated to the noble instrument, presumes the presence of the Maestro Sergiu Natra. How was born the systematic link with events related to the harp?

S.N. – When I participated in the contest for choosing an Israeli work that would be mandatory to be performed in the international harp competition which took place in 1963 in Israel, the success of my Sonatina both among the approx. 30 competitors and among the jury that was composed from masters of the instrument, was high; the work appears also today in many concerts in Europe and the United States. So that is the explanation of the large number of works for harp in my catalogue. The last Cantosonata, recently printed in France was interpreted in first audition by the great harpist Isabelle Perrin. 

S.G. - You've leaned quite often on the text as a form of expression; thinking about the lyrics of Stefan O. Iosif, Mihai Eminescu, Tudor Arghezi, later on the Bible pages with its multiple meanings, and also the sensitive poems authored by your wife, Sonia Natra. What is the main motive – beyond using the beauty of the human voice - that you have composed music to these texts?

S.N. - This is a provocative question because you have realized that the lyrics used in my vocal compositions have a certain content, which is fully true. I should add a few works to the mentioned examples. Poem for reciter and piano for the lyrics of Ilia Ehrenburg, Soldier Girl composed immediately after the defeat of Nazi Germany which was interpreted by the great lady of Romanian scene, Lucia Sturdza Bulandra, when as a young enthusiastic composer, I accompanied her on the piano. The choice of texts from Romanian literature that was mentioned, to which will be added the one authored by Emil Isac, joining them in Four Poems for voice and orchestra - brilliantly performed by baritone Octav Enigarescu in 1956, not only achieved a rhythmic sense and sound but also a meaning of resistance ... Bible verses from Prelude and Nehemiah Builds the Second House from the Testimonium, in 1967, those from the Song of Deborah, later on those from An ensign to the People Cantata, in 1984, were chosen since they contained contemporary struggle between element of good and evil. From Sonia lyrics I chose those related to this eternal struggle.

S.G. - The synthesis element is omnipresent in your creation. To join the dodecaphonic language with the modal one – incompatible opponents, at least at first glance - seems to be impossible, however, your compositional technique proves that contrasting directions and guidelines may form a valid whole, viable, carrier of new meanings, independent of the component elements ...

S.N. – You mention here an important element in any music language, contrast; it is present in African tribal music; it is present in the music of instruments that can’t emit forte and piano sounds by using rhythmic accents in contrast to long sounds and even breaks. I have used the contrast between dodecaphonic harmony and the modal one - as you well affirm - as elements that do not reject but can combine. I am delighted that you identify this positive element in my musical language.

S.G. - Over the years you had the opportunity to work with prestigious conductors, Mendi Rodan, Gary Bertini, Daniel Barenboim, Lior Shambadal – mentioning only few important musicians - who had repeatedly performed your works. Of course, without exhaustive claim and without ranking them, please tell us about the many experiences with those interpreters...

S.N. - Interpretations of my compositions began early on when I was 16 years old. After the Nazi laws era, I enjoyed interpretations of the two works which were distinguished in 1945 by Enescu Prize under the baton of Constantin Silvestri and Theodor Rogalski. Great Romanian composer Mihail Jora conducted Divertimento in ancient style with the Philharmonic G. Enescu, at the Romanian Athenaeum. I will mention here my former teacher, the conductor Eduard Lindenberg, being on tour in 1947 in Tel Aviv, interpreted with the Philharmonic, March and Choral years before my arrival in Israel. At this concert in Tel-Aviv was present the famous French musician Manuel Rosenthal, who sent me a congratulatory letter which I keep in my archive. Fifteen years had passed until the Israeli Philharmonic under the direction of Sergiu Comissiona, interpreted Symphony for string orchestra that I brought from Romania. Including my work in this concert, brought about a considerable number of performances by the Israeli Philharmonic of new works. Conductors Rodan, Bertini, Shambadal not only had interpreted the works that I already composed, but proposed to give me commissions for new compositions to be scheduled in concerts which would be conducted by them in Israel, Europe and the USA.

S.G. - Your Name is well known beyond Israel's borders (perhaps better known abroad than in the country). You have been asked to compose not rarely for diverse events and interpreters, for example, Music for Nicanor (for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet) a work commissioned in 1988 by the great harpist Nicanor Zabaleta. Another example is the work written for the Swiss musician Daniel Lienhard, for two horns and harp, played in 2006 in a premiere in Bern; what are the criteria according to which you agree to write a work that its idea was born in the imagination of an other person?

S.N. - Commissions that I received were free from all musical element constrains; an important aspect of them was, however, that the respective works composed in this way had ensured interpretations in public concerts and therefore did not remain as "works for the drawer". To write a work for Daniel Lienhard for two horns and harp was attracting me due to the sonority of this ensemble; the proposal of the Israeli Frank Pelleg to write for him a work for harpsichord and a group of several instruments at my choice, or writing for the piano Duo Sivan Silver and Gil Garburg, were commissions that did not impose any direction. I was attracted by the musical sound expression of these works and special colors that these different ensembles had. 

S.G. – The baroque, the golden age of instrumental polyphony, constituted the source of many of the works that were inspired, in some way or the other, from the boundless wealth of means of expression and form, characteristic of that period (for example Toccata and Fugue for Orchestra). Imitation combining independent voices, counterpoint, are all sources of temptation for a composer. Is this a specific mode of expression in your music?

S.N. - This question contains the answer in itself; being a child, I had contact with the sound ambience around me – there was music in our house – I had, in the piano lessons with Nicolae Dinicu- (at age 6), to analyze musical texts that I would study. From the beginning I was attracted by the existence of parallel voices and then, much later, the rich counterpoint in polyphony of Bach's preludes and fugues. Until today, for me to compose music means to hear a number, let's say for the uninitiated readers, a number of different melodies that flow independently at the same time with emphasizing their different expressions and colors. So it is a fair thesis in the question asked, according to which this is specific in my compositions.


(Free translation from Romanian by Natra Sergiu and Natra Gabi).

Dr. Sofia Gelman is, among others, a classical music composer, a lecturer in many important institutions, including at the Buchman-Meta School of Music in Tel-Aviv, a musicologist and a writer. Her doctoral work deals with the polyphony imitation in choral literature in contemporary Romanian music. Gelman wrote professional articles and reviews and had performed contemporary Israeli music, including as a singer, in recitals, concerts and symposiums, nationally and internationally.