It is actually an Israel Prize given to Hebrew Literature and Poetry. But since one of this year’s recipient of the Prize – a prestigious award given by the State of Israel to its most distinguished citizens for merits acquired in the sciences, the humanities, the arts, and lifetime achievements – is writer Nathan Shaham (Tel Aviv, 1925), author of the novel The Rosendorf Quartet (Revi’yat rozendorf, 1987), a phenomenal book about the members of a string quartet in pre-state Israel, then music is certainly attaining an important role in this case.

The narrative plot of the novel should be quite familiar to our class. Here’s a summary (courtesy of the Jewish Virtual Library):

Only one of them, Friedman, feels committed to the Zionist project and in fact suffers from guilt feelings for not being a good enough pioneer. The others feel alienated, strangers in a place supposed to be their home. Moreover, viola-player Eva von Staubenfeld hates the country, which, in her opinion, is nothing but a place of exile: She criticizes the ugliness of the place and the petit bourgeois mentality. The fifth figure in the novel, observer of and loyal listener to the quartet as well as the narrator of its story, is the German writer Egon Loewenthal, who reflects upon the difficulties of writing in a new language, so different from his mother-tongue, and provides the reader with a kind of “diary of exile.” For Nathan Shaḥam, himself a viola player, music becomes a complex metaphor for a universal language which rejects nationalism and transcends the pettiness of mundane life. In a subsequent novel, Ẓilo shel Rosendrof (2001), Shaḥam sends his protagonist to Germany to find out what has happened to the musicians and to the narrator.

Composer Noam Sheriff (b. 1935), whose music we will be listening to this week, named his String Quartet No. 2 (1996) “Rosendorf” in honor of this book and its characters.

Past recipients of the Israel Prize include a list of people and institutions we’ve encountered over the past several weeks. Among them are Oedeon Partos, Paul Ben-Haim, Josef Tal, Amos Oz, Naomi Shemer, Shoshana Damari, Noam Sheriff, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (in 1958) and the Israeli Andalusian Orchestra (in 2006). A full, and possible very accurate, list can be found (of course) on Wikipedia.

Read Haaretz on Nathan Shaham receiving the award.

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