Paul Ben-Haim: Father of Modern Israeli Music

by Kimberly Veenstra, Volume 1, Number 2 (Autumn 2008)

Keywords: Paul Ben-Haim, Paul Frankenburger, Bracha Zephira, Jewish music, Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean School, national style, hybridization

Abstract: This article attempts to link modern aspects of Israel to ancient ones. It focuses on the music of the diasporic Jews who eventually resettled in Israel, specifically, those who settled in Israel in the 1930s and 40s. Paul Ben-Haim stands out as a Western-born and -trained Jewish musician who, upon immigrating to Israel, worked endlessly at achieving a national style of music for Israel.

Paul Ben-Haim is known as a composer and a pianist. Upon Ben-Haim immigration to Israel in 1933, he took an interest in the ethnic musical sounds of the Middle East. At the same time, he responded to the general feeling among Jewish musicians that there was a need for a Jewish National School of music. For several years, Ben-Haim served as an accompanist and song arranger for the Yemenite singer, Bracha Zefira. This collaboration proved to be an extremely useful experience for Ben-Haim as a composer. He eventually became one of the most influential composers associated with the Eastern Mediterranean School of music composition. Ben-Haim was able to use his musical training from Germany in conjunction with his exposure to the local melodies of not only Yemenite, but also of Sephardic and other Arabic Jewish tribes, to create a hybrid type of music that was readily accepted as music in the new national style.