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Solomon Epstein: Opera through the eyes of an American composer.

A celebration of the life and work of American composer Solomon Epstein (1939-2018). Dr. Epstein's Biography, Autobiographical Notes, his List of Compositions, and a book chapter by American-music scholar Aloma Bardi devoted to Epstein's opera in Yiddish, The Dybbuk.

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PLEASE NOTE: This page was published on February 24, 2019, as part of an online virtual event hosted by ICAMus, in memory of Solomon Epstein: American composer, synagogue cantor, music educator, friend.

 

In the photo below: Composer Solomon Epstein (1939-2018), San Francisco, California, near the Golden Gate Bridge, late 1960s. Courtesy Epstein Family, Atlanta, Georgia. © ICAMus - The Solomon Epstein Collection 2019.

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SOLOMON EPSTEIN (1939-2018) - BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

Solomon Epstein (Savannah, Georgia, November 3, 1939 - Agawam, Massachusetts, December 21, 2018) was an American composer of operas, choral music, incidental music, instrumental works, music for synagogue sacred services, vocal chamber pieces, art songs for voice and piano, and arrangements of Yiddish ghetto songs. Among his most distinctive works, The Dybbuk: An Opera in Yiddish, and Moby-Dick: Opera-Oratorio in Three Acts.

He graduated in 1965 (Bachelor of Sacred Music and Cantor’s Diploma) from the Cantors Institute of Jewish Theological Seminary, New York City, where he studied composition with Hugo Weisgall and Miriam Gideon, and was awarded the Jacobsen Memorial Prize to Outstanding Graduate. He completed his Master of Music in Voice and Opera at Yale University School of Music in 1970, and earned his DMA in Music Composition/Orchestration from the Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford in 2001.

Dr. Epstein was employed as a Cantor and Music Director in Synagogues in Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts from 1966 to 2000, and was Interim Director of the Graduate Opera Department at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri in 1980-81.

In May 1999, Solomon Epstein’s opera The Dybbuk was given a première in Israel at Ben-Gurion University, Beersheba; a second performance took place at the Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theatre, Tel Aviv. The production was supported by the Lerner Foundation for Yiddish Language and Culture, Tel Aviv, which also supported the making of a DVD of the Tel Aviv performance, directed by Rachel Michaeli.

A book by American-music scholar Aloma Bardi, Esotismi musicali del Dibbuk. Ispirazioni da un soggetto del folclore ebraico [Musical Exoticisms of the Dybbuk: Inspirations from a theme of Jewish folklore], was published in March 2014 by the Centro di Studi Ebraici, Università degli Studi di Napoli “L’Orientale”. Alongside analyses of musical adaptations of S. Ansky’s play The Dybbuk by Aaron Copland, David Tamkin and Leonard Bernstein, the volume includes a chapter on Solomon Epstein’s opera (pages 162-190).

Dr. Epstein died of kidney failure on December 21, 2018.

 

In the photo below: Composer Solomon Epstein (1939-2018) at age 6, with his family, 1945; ICAMus Archive. © ICAMus and The Solomon Epstein Collection.

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THE SOLOMON EPSTEIN COLLECTION AT ICAMus 

American composer Solomon Epstein (1939-2018) donated the collection of his unpublished music manuscripts to the ICAMus Archive in 2014. Following his death on December 21, 2018, the Epstein family donated the composer’s papers to ICAMus on December 30, 2018. The contents of this second donation are currently (January 2019) being processed and studied.

Dr. Epstein personally compiled his List of Compositions, with the assistance of ICAMus Director, Aloma Bardi, in November-December 2013. Aloma Bardi has subsequently added further details to the List, and excerpts from significant documents in the Epstein Collection at The ICAMus Studio in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA, where the Epstein Papers are housed. Manuscript sketches and fragments are currently being studied as well.

This List is a Finding Aid for the ICAMus Archive holdings; it is meant as reference for all those interested in studying, performing, and publishing the works of Solomon Epstein internationally.

In remembering and celebrating Dr. Epstein as a unique composer of outstanding originality, a learned man, a synagogue cantor, and a generous music educator, we formulate the objective and the hope that his works be widely known and appreciated.

Please direct your inquiries to: “ICAMus” <info@icamus.org>; or contact us through our ICAMus Facebook Page.

 

SOLOMON EPSTEIN

(1939-2018)  

LIST OF COMPOSITIONS

 

OPERAS

 

MURDER IN THE FIRST

Two Acts. © 1999, 2010 by Solomon Epstein.

Libretto adapted by the composer from the novel and stage play by permission of their author, Dan Gordon (Oak Park, California).

Piano-vocal score [Four Hands], 8 ½” x 11”, 369 pages.

Orchestra score, 11” x 17”: Act One, pages 1-161; Act Two, pages 162-339.

 

MOBY-DICK

Opera-Oratorio. Three Acts, © 1989, 2008 by Solomon Epstein and The Estate of Joyce Sparer Adler.

Libretto adapted by the composer and Joyce Sparer Adler from the novel by Herman Melville.

Separate Libretto: 8 ½” x 11”, 33 pages.

Piano-vocal score [some sections piano four hands], 8 ½” x 11”, 401 pages.

Orchestra score, 11” x 17”: Act One, pages 1-338; Act Two, pages 339-648; Act Three, pages 648-785.

 

THE DYBBUK: AN OPERA IN YIDDISH

Three Acts, ©1994, 1998 by Solomon Epstein.

Libretto adapted by the composer from the Yiddish playscript by S. Ansky [Shloymeh Zanvel Rappaport] (public domain). English singable translation by the composer.

Separate Yiddish-English Libretto, 8 ½” x 11”, 48 pages.

Piano-vocal score [some sections piano four hands], 8 ½” x 11”, 326 pages.

Orchestra score, 11” x 17”: Act One, pages 1-253; Act Two, pages 254-421; Act Three, pages 422-704.

Performed: 1999, Beersheba, Israel, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Tel Aviv, Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theatre.

 

WATER SONGS

One Act, ©1988 by Solomon Epstein and Gabriel Lanci.

Monodrama for dramatic soprano and chamber ensemble with piano.

Libretto by Gabriel Lanci, 8 ½” x 11”, 6 pages.

Score by Solomon Epstein, 11” x 17”, 42 pages.

«The subject of this work is the struggle between the effort to remember and the forces that erode memory.»

 

MODEL: ON OEDIPUS

One Act, © 1985 by Solomon Epstein.

Libretto adapted by the composer (in English) from Sophocles as a self-assigned exercise in opera construction.

For soloists, chorus and small orchestra.

 

THE WILD BOY

One Act, © 1985 by Solomon Epstein.

Libretto by the composer, based on historical events: the attempt (Paris, 1800-1805) by Dr. Jean-Marc Itard to educate “Victor”, the feral child found at Aveyron in 1799.

Separate Libretto (English), 8 ½” x 11”, 4 pages.

Piano-vocal score, 11” x 17”, 60 pages.

Orchestra score, 11” x 17”.

«The piano-vocal reduction is only for the sections where the doctor sings. The wild boy’s Dance remains only in orchestra score, due to the fact that it relies so heavily on percussion.»

Performed: 1986 at Philadelphia University of the Arts.

 

MUSICAL

 

LADY LYD

Two Acts, © 1987 by William Block and Solomon Epstein.

Book and Lyrics by William Block. Music by Solomon Epstein.

Commissioned for the 100th Anniversary of the Haddonfield Plays and Players (Haddonfield, New Jersey), on the occasion of the opening of their new theater.

Performed: 1987.

Book and Songs in piano-vocal score.

 

INCIDENTAL MUSIC

 

Shakespeare, THE TEMPEST. 1991.

Incidental Music and Songs, © 1991 by Solomon Epstein.

8 ½” x 11”.

For soprano and chamber ensemble with piano.

Commissioned for performance by the Theater Department of the University of Pittsburgh/Johnstown (Pennsylvania) on the occasion of the Gala Opening Week of the Joseph Pasquerilla Center for the Performing Arts.

 

Brecht, THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE. 1982.

Incidental Music and Songs © 1982 by Solomon Epstein.

8 ½” X 11”.

Commissioned for performance by the Theater Department of the University of Pittsburgh/Johnstown.

 

Brecht, MOTHER COURAGE. 1979.

Commissioned to arrange the score by Paul Dessau for available singers and instruments, for the opening production of a new black box theater by the Theater Department of the University of Pittsburgh/Johnstown.

 

OCCASIONAL WORKS

 

John Donne, “At the Round Earth’s Imagin’d Corners”. 1996.

Site-specific piece for baritone and percussion battery. Performed on the Second Floor Rotunda above the Entrance Hall of the Harry Jack Grey Building at the University of Hartford (Connecticut) by young musicians of the Hartt School of Music.

 

Music for a Holocaust Commemoration - Yiddish Ghetto Songs. 1994.

Arrangements for baritone and cello; Interludes for solo cello.

© 1994 by Solomon Epstein.

Performed at the Annual Jewish Community Holocaust Commemoration, Longmeadow, Massachusetts, 1994.

Processional (Yiddish Song from the Vilna Ghetto, Es shlogt di sho; solo cello); Yugnt Himn; Shtil, di nakht iz oysgeshternt; Candle-lighting Ceremony (solo cello); Hot zich mir di shich tzerissn (Danse macabre); Keil Molei Rachamim (Formal Memorial Prayer); Recessional (Partisan Song; solo cello). 18 pages; ink, pencil.

«Composed while working with Professor Robert Stern at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst. I wanted the overall tone of the music to be stark and spare, so I decided on arrangements of Yiddish Ghetto Songs for voice and solo cello.»

 

MUSIC FOR SYNAGOGUE CHORAL GROUPS

 

Music for Sacred Services and Concert Performance by choirs and soloists where the composer was Cantor and Music Director. 1967-1983.

The choral groups ranged from children to teenagers to adult professionals, and included a cappella pieces, pieces with organ or piano accompaniment, and pieces involving various chamber ensembles.

 

ART SONGS

 

Rainer Maria Rilke, “Torso of an Archaic Apollo”. (Original in German). 1983.

High voice and piano. Setting in English translation of C.F. McIntyre, by permission of University of California Press, Berkeley.

«This song was imagined for a man’s voice, an operatic dramatic tenor. A woman’s voice tends to obscure the piano part.»

 

Concert setting of a Yiddish folksong, Gey Ikh Mir Shpatsirn”, for contralto and piano. 1982.

 

Songs to poems by Linda Marcus (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). 1982.

“How Many Tomorrows”; “Part-Time Clown”.

For female cabaret singer and piano.

 

Avraham Shlonsky, “Dress Me, Good Mother” (original in Hebrew). 1980.

High voice and piano. Setting in English translation by Ruth Finer Mintz, by permission of University of California Press, Berkeley.

 

Rainer Maria Rilke, “Der Panther”. 1962.

Setting of German original for medium voice and piano.

 

CHILDREN’S MUSICAL THEATER

 

A CHELM STORY. 1979.

Yiddish folktale adapted (in English) and directed by Solomon Epstein. Songs for children with piano by Solomon Epstein.

Performed: Beth Sholom Congregation, Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

 

IT SHOULD HAPPEN TO A DOG: A SERIO-COMIC STRIP (BBC). 1978.

A staged Haftarah of The Book of Jonah (the traditional Prophetic Reading for the Afternoon Service of Yom Kippur). Adapted and expanded by Solomon Epstein for fifty children as actors, singers and dancers, assisted by adult choir and piano. Music and direction by Solomon Epstein.  Performed for the Annual Hanukkah Celebration of Beth Sholom Congregation, Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

 

Sholom Aleichem, “Hotels”, from Inside Kasrilevke. 1975. Adapted for the stage with music and lyrics of songs for children and piano by Solomon Epstein.

 

INCOMPLETE WORKS

 

Walt Whitman’s Dream of Edgar Poe. For high baritone and orchestra.

Incomplete draft begun in 1981(1981-1983). 12 pages.

«The text is part of an actual letter written by Walt Whitman.»

 

 

Solomon Epstein 1967 (2100x1575).jpg

In the photo above: Composer Solomon Epstein (1939-2018) as synagogue cantor, mid 1960s. Dr. Epstein was employed as a Cantor and Music Director in synagogues in Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts from 1966 to 2000. Courtesy Epstein Family, Atlanta, Georgia. © ICAMus - The Solomon Epstein Collection 2019.

The ICAMus Studio - Solomon Epstein Collection (1550x1163).jpg

Among Solomon Epstein’s most distinctive works, The Dybbuk: An Opera in Yiddish, and an opera-oratorio in three acts, Moby-Dick. Dr. Epstein donated his unpublished music manuscripts to the ICAMus Archive. A precious legacy that the Center will promote and cherish.

The photos of Solomon Epstein’s music manuscripts published on this page: © ICAMus and The Solomon Epstein Collection.

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In the photo below: Composer Solomon Epstein (1939-2018); Agawam, Massachusetts, February 21st, 2016. ICAMus Archive. © ICAMus and The Solomon Epstein Collection.

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In the photo above: Solomon Epstein (1939-2018). WATER SONGS. Monodrama in one act for dramatic soprano and chamber ensemble with piano. Text by Gabriele Lanci. Unpublished manuscript score, 42 pages. ©1988 by Solomon Epstein and Gabriel Lanci. The ICAMus Archive, Ann Arbor, Michigan USA, © ICAMus - The Solomon Epstein Collection 2019.

Composer’s note on cover page: «The subject of this work is the struggle between the effort to remember and the forces that erode memory.»

 

 

Highlights & Archive