Ödön Pártos, Ein Gev, Symphonic Fantasy

By Yuval Sheked, Hebrew University

Written for the concert Composing A Nation: Israel’s Musical Patriarchs, performed on May 31, 2009 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

Kibbutz Ein Gev was established in 1937 in the framework of the Wall and Tower settlements on the east shores of the Sea of Galilee, just down the slopes of the Golan Heights. During Israel’s War of Independence (1948) it had been heavily attacked by Syrian troops.

Born in 1907 in Budapest, a child prodigy as a violinist, Ödön Partos studied, among others, with Kodály. Until his arrival at Palestine in 1938, he has been extensively active in Europe as a soloist, chamber music player and teacher. Partos’ occupation with non-European and archaic materials on any level of his works was marked by tense and bold characteristics. He didn’t follow the then dominating ideology promoted by author Max Brod and composer Alexander U. Boskovitch who called for the creation of Mediterranean music as an expression of local and national style.

Since 1943 Partos visited Ein Gev from time to time and played concerts in the framework of Israel’s first music festival held at the Kibbutz’ dining hall. Some years later a big concert hall, modeled after Tanglewood, was erected in the kibbutz with the financial support of the American ESCO Foundation. In 1950 violinist Yehudi Menuhin performed together with his sister, pianist Hephzibah Menuhin in Ein Gev’s still incomplete concert hall with orange crates for chairs. Yehudi Menuhin donated his fees to help build the concert hall’s ceiling. The hall’s inaugural concert was scheduled for Sukkoth in the fall of 1952.

Feeling connected to the Kibbutz, Partos decided to compose a piece bearing its name. He wished to pay tribute to the perseverance and heroism of the embattled settlers. Written in 1951-52, Partos’ Symphonic Fantasy Ein Gev remained his only program music piece. It depicts laying the fundaments for the Kibbutz as an outpost on the edge of the Syrian border, its growth, life, and fight for existence.

The works open with an oboe solo based on a motif derived from the Kibbutz’ name: E-G-B flat. The opening section is characterized “Andante, molto tranquillo”. As a rule, relatively short Tranquillo sections, mostly predominated by woodwind instruments, separate the work’s main sections from each other.

The work received its first performance on October 11, 1953 at Binyanei Ha’umah (that is the Nation’s Buildings, nowadays called ICC – International Convention Center Jerusalem) in the framework of a successful governmental propaganda exhibition entitled “Conquest of the Desert.” The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra premiered the work under the baton of Maestro Leonard Bernstein. Specifically for this work Partos was awarded in 1954 the prestigious Israel State Prize and thus became the first musician among its laureates.

According to Partos’ biographer, musicologist Avner Bahat, Ein Gev belongs to the composer’s first period of creativity in Israel (1938-1957), which he called the Jewish-Israeli period. In 1969/70 Partos composed yet another work, a Symphonic Elegy entitled Paths (Netivim), which uses the Ein Gev motif as a starting point.