By Erik Jönsson
Paul Ben-Haim, who would become the premier Israeli composer of his time, was born Paul Frankenburger in Munich, Germany, in 1897. He studied composition, conducting, and piano at the Munich Academy of the Arts before pursuing a short career as a conductor: first as assistant conductor at the Munich Opera from 1920 to 1924, before conducting the Opera of Augsburg from 1924 to 1931.
Ben-Haim returned to Munich in 1931 and focused his efforts on composition, though his stay there would be short-lived. Fleeing the Nazi regime who had risen to power, he emigrated from Germany to what was then the British Mandate of Palestine in 1933 and settled in Tel Aviv. Embracing his new home, he changed his name from Frankenburger to Ben-Haim, meaning “son of life,” and became an Israeli citizen in 1948 when the country declared its independence.
His new home also influenced Ben-Haim’s compositional style, as he had become familiar with traditional Middle Eastern music from his collaboration as pianist and arranger for Yemeni singer Bracha Zefira. While his earlier works were borne of the late-Romantic tradition, his music evolved to incorporate the melodies and rhythms of Middle-Eastern folk music into a style that would later be called “the Mediterranean School.”
The Pastorale Variée was originally scored as the final movement of Ben-Haim’s Clarinet Quintet, Op. 31a, which he had written in 1941. The piece opens with a sweet shepherd’s tune before setting off on a series of variations that blends Western European, Hebrew, and Arabic musical traditions, while also hinting at the sorrow Ben-Haim felt as war ravaged on back home in Europe. The quintet marked an important milestone for Ben-Haim, as he said of the work “I was very satisfied because I felt that I had succeeded in consolidating a new style.” Though the quintet would not be published until 1965, Ben-Haim rescored the final movement and published it in 1945 as the Pastorale Variée for clarinet, harp, and string orchestra.