71. Cantata Dramatica (Identity Card)
Written by Salvador Arnita
Performed by Unknown
From the LP Identity (Details unknown)



Salvador Arnita is yet another Palestinian artist who was forced into exile by the mass expulsion of Palestinians during the formation of the State of Israel.

We found some documentation of the Cantata Dramatica at www.salvadorarnita.com/html/News.html. It features two brief excerpts from the composition but gives no information about the recording from which the excerpts are taken.

On Salvador Arnita – A personal testimony…

‘Arnita, my first music teacher, taught piano and choir at Birzeit High School and College between the years 1939 and 1946. His advanced musical training was reflected in his musical compositions of national songs which he wrote for choir and orchestra. During every graduation ceremony, a new song of his composition would be performed, most of which were national songs. However, I recall one very beautiful song called ‘The Spring’ which diverted from the usual national theme. Unfortunately, no trace of this manuscript is to be found to date. During those occasions, members of the Palestine Orchestra would accompany the choir made up of members from both the Girls’ and Boys’ Schools. After the Nakba [The Catastrophe], Arnita ended up in Beirut with his wife, the renowned musicologist Yusra Jawhariyyeh, where he established and directed the music department at the American University of Beirut for many years.’

- ‘The Palestinian National Song – A Personal Testimony’, by Rima Tarazi. This Week In Palestine, Issue 108, April 2007, www.thisweekinpalestine.com. Tarazi is the President of the Administrative Board of the General Union of Palestinian Women in Palestine, Chairperson of the Supervisory Board of the ESNCM and one of its founders. She can be reached at rima_tarazi@hotmail.com.

…and an anniversary remembrance

‘AMMAN—The 14th of March [1989] marks the 5th anniversary of the death of the renowned organist, composer and music professor Salvador Arnita. The name might sound familiar to all those who attended the American University of Beirut—AUB since 1949. They often had the occasion of hearing him play the organ or conduct a choir or an orchestra at the Assembly Hall.

Prior to 1949 Arnita was working hard preparing for his career in music. He started to play the piano and organ at a very early age. Tutored by the great master of the organ, Augustine Lama, he became assistant organist in The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, his hometown, when he was only thirteen. Five years later he moved to Alexandria in Egypt where he became organist and choirmaster at St. Catherine’s cathedral. It was in 1934 that he finally had the opportunity to go to Italy for official academic training, to study piano and composition at the Academia Santa Cecilia in Rome with Alfredo Casella and to study the organ with Fernando Germani. He was awarded the L.A.S.C. degree in Rome in 1935.

His increasing interest in choral and orchestral music led him to study at the Guildhall School of Music with Sir Landon Ronald. In 1936 he graduated with distinction and was awarded the L.G.S.M. degree. Having finished his studies, Arnita returned to Jerusalem where he was appointed Music Director of Jerusalem YMCA, a position he retained until 1948. It is imperative to mention here that the organ there was the largest in the Middle East, 3600 pipes, and it had a carillon tower. The hymns Arnita played on the carillon could be heard all over Jerusalem.

In 1949 he joined the AUB as organist, lecturer and choir director. He re-organised and enlarged the choir by opening it to community members and assembled an orchestra of professional musicians. This enabled him to undertake more elaborate works to be performed at Christmas and Easter, presenting works such as ‘The Messiah’, ‘Creation’ and other oratorios. He also produced operettas such as Menotti’s ‘Almahl and the Night Visitors’, ‘Waltz Dream’ by Oscar Strauss, etc.

In spite of his busy schedule, Professor Arnita did not neglect his interest in orchestral music and composition. Throughout his life he composed 200 pieces: three symphonies, four concerts (for piano, organ, flute and viola), two suites, three piano trios, a few string quartets, several oriental dances, solo works for piano, organ, violin, violoncello, oboe and string orchestra. He also composed an Arab cantata known as Cantata Dramatica or ‘Identity Card’ written for a full symphony orchestra, with a choir of 74. It is based on the poem of Mahmoud Darwish ‘Sajjel ana Arabi’ .

Arnita’s own explanation of this masterpiece runs as follows: ‘the Cantata is composed in the classical tradition. It has two main themes. The first is based upon two diminished intervals and the second relies on contrapuntal development. The first theme appears seventeen times, augmented in time values, ornamented and inverted throughout the orchestra and the voices. The second theme appears first as a fugal exposition and is followed by a canonic section in two parts for male and female voices. The middle section makes use of three folk songs. ’The Ice Cream Vendor’, ‘The Coffee maker’, and ‘The Man With The Plaited Hair’. The final section is preceded by ‘Taqasim’, an oriental improvisation, played on the Kanoon. The music then moves towards a climax of soloist, choir and orchestra.’

This Cantata was first performed under his direction in Cairo on July 17, 1970, at Sayyed Darwish Hall, with the Cairo Symphony Orchestra and the Choir of the Opera House. Another cantata was based on Said Akl’s poem ‘The throne of Lebanon’.

- ‘Paying homage to a great Arab composer’, by Nelly Lama, Jordan Times, Tuesday, March 14, 1989. www.salvadorarnita.com



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