The Music of Nurit Hirsh
A Historical and Analytical Overview
By Alex Krauth

This research paper was written for the "History of Jewish Music" course
at Keene State College, New Hampshire, USA in 2012
This work is copyright to Alex Krauth

See response from Nurit Hirsh below

Nurit Hirsh (B. 1942) is considered one of Israel’s most prolific and diverse composers, having written over 1,000 songs in a wide variety of genres including children’s songs, folk songs, pop and rock music, orchestral arrangements, and even scores for films and musicals.

She graduated from the Academy of Music in Tel Aviv, where her studies included piano, clarinet, conducting, composition, and orchestration (Hirsh).

According to Nathan Shahar, a writer whose work has been published on the Jewish Women’s Archive website, she later studied electronic music, contemporary music, and music for films at UCLA and composition with Norman Dello Joio in New York.

Her compositions have garnered her numerous awards in countries such as Japan, Chile, France, Portugal, Brazil, and, of course, Israel.

As a passionate musician and avid music appreciator, I am in awe of the significant number of contributions she has made to Israeli music since the country’s establishment, as well as the various musical techniques used in her songs—two concepts that will be discussed throughout this paper.

Historically, Israel’s Six-Day War of 1967 caused a dramatic change in the lives and music of her people (Edelman 231).

Much of the music written since the beginning of the decade reflected a state of peace and tranquility, especially because of Israel’s victory during the Sinai Campaign of 1956.

However, the reunification of Jerusalem as a result of the Six-Day War brought about feelings of both joy and sadness—feelings that would be reflected in much post-war music.

Marsha Bryan Edelman states, “More than 500 soldiers fell in the fighting, much of it hand-to-hand combat in the narrow streets of the Old City”  (232).

Nurit Hirsh expressed the devastation at the price paid during the war in her song “Yerushalayim Sheli” (My Jerusalem) with lyrics by Dan Almagor.

The final verse of the song translates as: “Said the soldier from Ashdot Yaakov, "My Jerusalem, I was there once on a morning of bereavement: Alleys and a sniper in the tower on the left, Since then I haven't returned, I simply can't. Avner and Gadi, for me, they are My Jerusalem, my Jerusalem."  (Edelman 233)

Unfortunately, I could not find a full recording of this song on YouTube to listen to. However, I can still assume that it was written in strophic form—a conclusion based on an audio sample from a recording by Danny Granot found on Hirsh’s official website.

In other words, it is likely that the melody and harmonic structure used during the first verse remain the same throughout the rest of the song.

Musically, it is performed at a moderately slow tempo and contains a minor tonality overall. I believe these elements worked very well here because they are both generally associated with a sense of sadness which the text clearly signifies.

In addition, there were two musical techniques used in this verse that particularly stood out for me: tonicization and modulation.

To someone trained in music theory, her use of the V/V chord to tonicize the V chord in the key would likely be noticeable. Even more so is her temporary shift to the key of III in the middle of the verse and cadencing back in the original key at its conclusion, which I have recently discovered is common in much of the music we’ve received from those in the Jewish world.

Six years later, in early 1973, Nurit Hirsh composed the music for the country’s first entry into the Eurovision Song Contest. “Ei Sham” (Somewhere), with lyrics by Ehud Manor, placed fourth in that year’s competition. The song was sung by Ilanit, a lifelong friend to Hirsh, and featured Hirsh’s own orchestral arrangement which she conducted during the performance.

Additionally, she composed and conducted an orchestral arrangement used during the debut of her song “Abanibi” (lyrics by Ehud Manor and sung by Yizhar Cohen), which placed first in the Eurovision contest in 1978 (Shahar).

Personally, I feel that both of her contest entries would appeal to any music lover in America, especially fans of pop and rock music, even though the lyrics are in Hebrew.

Marsha Bryan Edelman makes an important point that this type of Israeli music “represented a retreat from some of the more uniquely Israeli songs (and subjects) of past competitions” (239).  She notes that this likely reflects the improved mood of Israel’s people, as well as an attempt to appeal to a wider international audience.

Like many songs that have the same music composer, these two contain a vast amount of similarities.

For one, both of them utilize a musical form where a recurring chorus is placed in alternation with verses.

Also, the choruses of the songs are simple to catch on to melodically; anyone with adequate pitch ability would probably hum them or sing them on a neutral syllable after listening to them, just as I did myself.

On the other hand, both contest entries differ in a variety of ways as well.

“Abanibi,” for example, is “a rock-influenced song of the joys of love (spoken in a children's secret nonsense language)” (Edelman 329).

It utilizes rondo form, in which a musical refrain is contrasted against other sections (i.e. A, B, A, C, A, etc).

The C section, in particular, offers a dramatic departure from the rest of the song’s musical content. The tempo suddenly becomes double-time slower with sustained notes in the melody, and there is yet another temporary modulation from the original minor key to its relative major.

In contrast, the lyrical “Ei Sham” contains legato verses in the singer’s lower and middle registers, all of which have the same melodic material, which crescendo and ascend into the memorable chorus performed at a strong forte dynamic level.

Interestingly enough, Yosef Goldenberg mentions that many Israeli composers, including Nurit Hirsh, have also incorporated influences from the Western classical tradition into their various Hebrew songs—an eye-opening discovery for me.

Goldenberg states that “some songs quote lengthy extracts from classical tunes, almost to the extent of plagiarism. This is especially common in the songs of Nurit Hirsh” (4).

For instance, her song “Ha-Derekh el ha-Kfar” (The Road to the Village), composed in 1986, utilizes a melody and harmonic progression almost exactly identical to those in the A theme of the well-known third movement of Beethoven’s “Pathétique Sonata Op. 13” as its refrain.

When juxtaposing the openings of these two compositions, I was astonished at how remarkably similar they truly are—a fact that even someone with an untrained musical ear would most likely agree with me on! I wonder if anyone ever pointed this out to Nurit since the song’s publication.

However, she has admitted in several media interviews that her song “Perah ha-Lilakh” (The Lilac Flower), composed in 1964, features echoes of the main theme of Chopin’s first concerto (Goldenberg). Therefore, she obviously recognizes her own usage of this technique in other works such as this one.

According to Goldenberg, “especially common in Hebrew song is the pattern of a harmonic sequence of descending fifths in minor keys” (9).

This harmonic progression dates back to the Baroque period in Western music history and was used by composers such as Lully and Handel.

In music theory, the chord sequence is as follows: i, iv, V/III, III, VI, ii (dim), V, i.

In Hebrew music, the first occurrence of the tonic chord in this pattern can sometimes be substituted with a V/iv, in which the third of the chord is raised making the chord quality major.

I immediately recognized that two examples of this chord sequence are the refrains found in the two songs that are arguably her most popular: “Bashana Haba’ah” (Next Year) and “Oseh Shalom” (He Who Makes Peace).

In both cases, the chord that starts the progression is a V/iv leading to the iv chord.

Ilana Ivtzan compared 10 Hebrew songs that utilize the descending fifths progression, and “Oseh Shalom” was among them.

Goldenberg reported that “The historical distribution of the songs selected in Ivtzan’s sample truly represents the high point of the use of this progression in the late 1960s” (12).
This discovery particularly fascinated me because of my passion for musical analysis and my love of music history.

All in all, because Nurit Hirsh has written over 1,000 songs and will hopefully expand her library of music as the years go by, it would probably take a whole book’s worth of information to provide a complete view of her work.

Despite this, I feel that the songs mentioned above offer an insight into how diverse she truly is as a composer.

Writing this paper was a most rewarding experience, as I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the musical genres and techniques used in Hirsh’s songs, combined with the history of Israel and its music overall.

I am greatly honored to have had the opportunity to explore such a fascinating art form from a woman who truly deserves all the appreciation she has received to this day.


Works Cited

Edelman, Marsha Bryan. Discovering Jewish Music.
Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 2007.

Goldenberg, Yosef. Classical music and the Hebrew song repertoire.

Hirsh, Nurit. “Biography.” Welcome to the Site of Nurit Hirsh. 2004.

Shahar, Nathan. “Nurit Hirsch.” Jewish Women’s Archive. 2009


Dear Alex
Thank you for a thorough excellent research paper.
It is not only academically good, it is written with much soul.
Connecting the songs to the Israeli scene moved my heart.
Apropo the influence of classical music on my songs, it was done intuitively - I was not aware of it until I was told by musicians.
It was Shimon Cohen who told me about the similarity to the Chopin concerto.

The only time I took a line deliberately was in the song "Lalechet Shevi Acharayich" lyrics by Ehud Manor sung by Ilanit.
It is the first line of the refrain: "Lalechet Shevi Acharayich"
which I took from the Hatikva anthem:
Od Lo Avda Tikvatenu" - same notes in a different rhythm.
No one ever noticed, until I started telling it in my performances.

I liked how you analyzed "Abanibi"
It was the one and only time that I composed a song in such a way
It started as an idea.
Ehud Manor said to me: "Let's write a children song in The 'B' language."
Immediately I said: "Excellent, the first line will be "I love you" A BY LABAV YUBU {in Hebrew}
It did not take me more than a few minutes and I came with the refrain - I sang it to him on the phone and asked him to write the verse. He wrote it and read it to me on the phone I composed, and the song was ready.
But I was not satisfied - I needed a middle part - so I composed the melody first:
and he wrote lyrics to it. That's why the music changes , I needed a change of atmosphere.

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask.