for Clarinet, Cello and Piano (1987)




Pianist-composer Joseph Dorfman (Иосиф Дорфман, 1940, Odessa, Ukraine–2006, Los Angeles, US) emigrated from the Soviet Union to Israel in 1973, on the crest of an emigration wave of Soviet citizens with Jewish roots. He studied piano and composition in the conservatory of his hometown Odessa, in Leningrad and the Gnesin-Institute in Moscow. He also received composition lessons from Edison Denisov. Dorfman was an active promoter of contemporary composition techniques in the 1960s in the Ukraine, giving lectures and performing contemporary western compositions. Dorfman himself mentioned two main influences on his music: Shostakovich and the “New Jewish School in Music”.  Dorfman died during a performance on a concert tour in Los Angeles in 2006. 

Dorfman composed Five Images after Marc Chagall for clarinet (in B-flat), cello and piano in 1987 for the opening of an exhibition to the 100th birthday of Chagall in the Art Museum of Tel Aviv. The source of inspiration for each of the five movements of this composition was a different painting by Chagall, all of which were presented in that exhibition. Elements and symbols from Jewish religion and culture are central both in Chagall´s paintings and in Dorfman’s music. The trio was published in 1994. Dorfman explained in the preface to this edition that this music is meant to “take the figures and colours of the painter and other spiritual and eternal symbols of Jewish-European tradition and put them into musical language and form” (Dorfman 1994). Dorfman further composed a work for clarinet solo, Bewitched Klezmer (1986).  

Five Images after Marc Chagall consists of five movements with a duration of approximately 16 minutes:
1. The Birds in the Night, Andantino cantabile
2. Winter, Andante
3. Solitude, Lento
4. The Flying Sleigh, Vivo
5. Nocturnal Carnival, Andante - Allegro

In order to approach Dorfman´s trio as an example of programmatic music, it is necessary to take a closer look at the connection to the paintings of Chagall. The title of the first movement of the composition, The Birds in the Night, highlights two elements. The theme of Birds can be found in numerous paintings by Chagall. Dorfman sets the singing of Birds onomatopoetically to music in every movement of the trio. The second element, Night, cannot be as concretely represented. The composer thus embarks on the topic on a more abstract level: night as a feeling. At the beginning of the movement, the dynamics in all parts are kept very silent, from pp to mp. The piano plays only single notes or little motif shreds. The cello part adds a special effect: a sliding motion between two semitones, executed quasi tremolo and with flageolet tones. By these means, the music creates a quiet, somewhat sleepy impression, but there is also an underlying, frightening unrest present. While this is not clearly definable, it occurs as a quite possible interpretation of Night in Dorfman’s composition (Video ex.7.9.1: Birds in the Night).

Video ex.4.9.1: Birds in the Night (Dorfman, Five Images, mvt.1, mm. 1-8)


In Chagall's painting A Village in Winter, snowy roofs represent winter. Jewish symbolism is particularly strong in this painting: a white goat and a married couple in Jewish traditional clothing. The music stays on the level of perceived feelings, continuing the obscure atmosphere of Night from the first movement.  Also in this movement, there is no concrete conversion of the title, except in the clearly recognizable bird imitations, but the composer addresses the imagination of the audience instead. At the beginning, the composer introduces motives only sparsely. Special effects in the clarinet part, such as frullato, give a flowing, unstable impression – in my interpretation as if moving on icy ground. The piano plays a repeated polyrhythmic figure up and down, which can be interpreted with some imagination as a glide on snowy ground. Further, the cello performs a soft staccato passage with small intervals, while the clarinet, also pianissimo, makes the same movement, but in legato and the other way around, as if seen in a mirror. This creates a sound effect which can be perceived as representing the freezing cold: the bass notes of the piano stay motionless underneath, as if congealed by frost (Video ex.4.9.2: Winter).

Video ex.4.9.2: Winter (Dorfman, Five Images, mvt.2, mm. 1-12)

The third movement, Solitude, is the emotional climax of the entire trio. Dorfman here refers to Chagall´s painting of the same title, which is one of Chagall’s most famous paintings. In the painting, Jewish symbolism is strongly present: an old man wearing a tallit holds a thora roll. Except for a white goat, nobody else is present in the painting. Dorfman transfers the emotion of solitude into a slow and intense musical setting. A few musical hints to Jewish traditional music can be found in this movement: the sobbing grace notes in the cello and a long unisono line played by clarinet and cello (Video ex.4.9.3: Solitude).


Video ex.4.9.3: Solitude (Dorfman, Five Images, mvt. 3, mm.1-7)


The fourth movement, The Flying Sleigh, is a fast perpetuum mobile. Hasty triplets move from one performer to the next, creating the impression of speed, yet feather-light (video ex.4.9.4: The Flying Sleigh).


Video ex.4.9.4: The Flying Sleigh (Dorfman, Five Images, mvt. 4, mm. 1-21)


The last movement, Nocturnal Carnaval, brings back the opening theme of the first movement. The following boisterous dance-melody shows similarities to a traditional Freylekh (Video ex.4.9.5: Nocturnal Carnival). This trio is a constant, vivid dialogue among the chamber music partners. Diverse thematic fragments appear repeatedly in various movements and in all of the three instruments, and allusions to Jewish folk music reappear in different moments. The music is immensely colourful and acts with quickly-changing emotional contrasts. Dorfman sets no limits to our imagination in his trio composition Five Images after Marc Chagall.


Video ex.4.9.5: Nocturnal Carnival (Dorfman, Five Images, mvt.5, mm. 1-18)



Anne Elisabeth Piirainen, clarinet

Petja Kainulainen, cello 

Kiril Kozlovsky, piano

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1st doctoral concert "Abandoned Melodies" 

15.05.2014, Helsinki Music Centre