Vitebsk (1929 )

Shloyme-Zanvel Rappaport/Semyon Akimovich Ansky (1863-1920) is one of the most remarkable figures in Russian and Jewish history and literature. Born to a traditional, Yiddish-speaking Jewish family, Ansky became a populist activist and an author of fiction, poetry, and drama in Yiddish and Russian. His play “Between Two Worlds” (The Dybbuk), was written in 1919, was performed in an English version in New York in 1925. The American composer Aaron Copland (1900-1990) attended one of the performances and was impressed by the play, in particular by the Ḥasidic song “Why, oh why” at the beginning and the end. Inspired by The Dybbuk, Aaron Copland composed a trio for piano, violin and cello, which he entitled Vitebsk after the Belarusian city where Anski had grown up and heard this melody for the first time. Marc Chagall, too, was from Vitebsk and pictured his hometown in many, often grotesque paintings; for that reason Copland dubbed the middle section of his new piano trio as a “Chagall-like grotesquerie.” I am very excited to perform this piece soon.