The magic and the riddle - the research book about Matti Caspi’s harmonic wold

Matti Caspi - The Magic and the Riddle

By musicologist Dr. Zippi Fleischer
Published by “Hakibbutz Hameuchad”, 2013

An interpretation of Matti Caspi’s unique harmonic and rich world based on a deep analysis of forty of his songs, while discussing the layers of his life and the things that influenced him.

Dr. Zippi Fleischer:

“Lucky for us, we got to know Matti next to us, in our time. Unlike other music geniuses like Bach and Gershwin, also harmonic artists, we had the opportunity to follow Matti Caspi’s creations in real time. Actually, there is a little of Bach and Gershwin in Matti’s music, and many more. Matti is also one of Israeli music’s heroes, especially during the years 1970-1990.
The idea of writing this book came in 1994, but I started discussing the musical material in his songs with my students already in the 70’s. I’ve always liked to deal with every note, every chord, every harmonic movement.
In the beginning of the process I read the melody with the harmonies as Matti had written them in his books. This was the starting point - and then I listened to the recordings and completed the chords with full music notes for the piano. The result, as you will see in the songs album that opens from the left side of the book, are songs written as carols, but the soprano line - the melody - appears separately, and with harmonic levels under the accompaniment. When needed, the rhythmic patterns appear too.
This book is a summary of the full three-volume book, which elaborates further the analysis of the forty songs and the deep discussion in Matti Caspi’s rich harmonic language. The full book is in the libraries of many universities in the nation. To whoever ‘had a peek and go offended’ and is interested in reading the full book, I recommend reading the introduction there”.

From the press:

“The best book written about Israeli music. Fleischer’s virtuoso analysis touches the beauty in Caspi’s music. Just amazing”! [Hanoch Ron, Yediot Aharonot]


← Buy the book from "Hakibbutz Hameuchad"'s website


The recognition in Matti’s brilliance is crossing generations

By Ofer Shenar Levanon, June 2013

Zippi Fleischer’s book is one of the most interesting ever published in Israel that discusses an Israeli artist’s music. I doubt there has ever been a similar book about a contemporary composer, and there’s no one more worthy of this honor to be the first one than Matti Caspi. The recognition in Matti’s brilliance is crossing generations and unites between the generation of the founders of Israeli music, which is represented by Mordechai Zaira, who noticed that brilliance when Matti was an infant of three years old, and after he grew up the connection with Sasha Argov (to whom Matti was compared many times) also served as proof of that brilliance, and also Naomi Shemer who has created many songs with Matti and much appreciated him. Matti receives the appreciation of many of the most distinguished composers of his time, starting from Shalom Hanoch, Yehudit Ravitz, Shem-Tov Levy, and Yony Rechter, and on to Shlomo Gronich, maybe the closest to Matti from all the others of his generation, as the person who got to compose and share the stage with him for many years. This honorable list will not be complete without the mentioning of musicians who are younger than Matti such as Arkady Duchin, Assaf Amdursky, Ronna Keinan (all who performed his songs), and Meir Banai and his younger brother Eviatar Banai, who performed an entire show of Matti Caspi’s songs, and also Danny Robas who has identified many times as a big fan of Caspi. Caspi’s influence is well evident among the young Jazz artists who work in Israel and in the world, like Avishay Cohen, one of the most successful Jazz musicians in the world today, Joca Perpignan, Gilad Haxelman and Omer Klein, who both play his songs in New York and in Israel in original Jazz versions that breathe new life into the known songs. Can the book decipher the secret of the magic and the riddle of the uniqueness of Matti’s music, which is highly complex yet pleasing to the ear (a large part of his songs are among the most popular ever written in Israel)? The book attempts to deal with these questions and offers s number of explanations to the way Matti does the impossible, among others by the combination of complex and unusual harmonic movements of which influence is balanced by the usage of rhythm and melody as anchors for the listener. The book reveals some of the musical processes which Matti frequently uses, and serves as a guide to those who want to delve into the complexity of his compositions. To others, the book serves as a reunion of known and less-known songs, of which forty are used by Fleischer and are represented with full notation, including harmonic levels (which don’t appear in his books) and also a short discussion that enlightens secret points in each one of them.

You can certainly read and enjoy this book even without musical knowledge, but still it seems that it’s designated to those who can read notes, have a previous knowledge of basic musical terms, like tonica dominanta, musical gaps /spaces and modes. The book is also designated to readers who have a broader knowledge of other fields and can read graphs and understand things like organ points.

Matti’s music is a deep wide ocean, full of many beautiful shapes and forms that attract the ear and distract the mind. In a same way, the book is some kind of a journey which has little of coincidence and much of the joy of discovery among those beautiful musical shapes, a journey in a big garden without beginning nor end, but splitting paths, and the reader is invited to randomly open the book and enjoy the abundance of beauty discovered from within every one of its pages.

Fleischer is deliberately avoiding the subject of Matti Caspi’s rhythmic aspects in his music. She says this isn’t her goal in this book, however, this absence isn’t a barrier for those who wish to enrich themselves from reading the book, which focuses on harmonic and melodic aspects and enlightens these aspects with different points of view.

The only downside is that we can’t buy the full book with its three volumes - that book is only available (in limited numbers) at the libraries of certain national universities, for students of musicology. The full edition comes with a CD that should make the book’s content accessible to every reader.

In conclusion, Zippi Fleischer writes that “Matti Caspi is an important milestone in the history of world music. He is a point in the middle of the elevation line stretched between Bach and Gershwin”. It’s a brave affirmation from the author, who is a senior composer as well as a musicologist who’s taught many generations of musicians in Israel, who is well aware of the brilliance of the two - Bach and Gershwin - and to the meaning of comparing Matti with them. There already were some who have raised an eyebrow before this comparison, which is repeatedly seen in the book. It seems they are unacquainted with the dramatis personae - Bach didn’t get any recognition as a composer when he was alive, surely not as one of the greatest. Gershwin, who’s had his fair share of success in his life, was attacked by many musicologists who have found flaws in his music, even in the masterpiece “Rhapsody in Blue” there were those who thought it had wrong harmonies. Matti Caspi isn’t a boy anymore but his music is only in the beginning of its way and there’s no doubt that even in many years to come, the one-time tones of his music will still continue to echo throughout the whole world. We only have to thank him for choosing to reside in Israel and for sharing with us his enormous talent so often, whether it be by releasing a new album, or performing on the stages, and of course, we need to thank Zippi Fleischer for dedicating such a big chapter of her life to him, and for publishing her book in Hebrew.

Is Matti Caspi really a genius or is it an exaggeration?

Musicologist Zippi Fleischer’s new book - “Matti Caspi - the Magic and the Riddle” is mainly designated to the fans of the composer and singer, who are interested in the inner mechanism of his perfect songs.

By Ben Shalev, “Haaretz”, February 31st, 2013

Matti Caspi gave an interview two years ago to “Haaretz” and told about the musicians who have influenced him the most, from Sasha Argov to Stevie Wonder and Antonio Carlos Jobim. “Until today, whenever I listen to his music it’s as if the sun shines upon me after it’s been cloudy and a bit cold” he said of Jobim. “Suddenly the sun comes out of the clouds and warms me up. Each time I listen as if it’s the first time and I’m filled with wonder again. How he did it. What a genius. He’s a genius. Jobim is a genius, just like Sasha was. Jobim is a genius”.

When the interview was over, I regretted not asking him the necessary question: “Do you think you’re also a genius”? but later on I changed my mind and was glad I didn’t ask him that. If he answered yes, he would have been portrayed as a braggart. If he answered no, he would have been portrayed as too naive. It’s not a fair question to be presented to an artist suspected to be a genius, moreover, in Caspi’s case the answer is clear.

Recently, published by “Hakibbutz Hameuchad”, “Matti Caspi - the Magic and the Riddle” the book about Matti Caspi’s musical creation by musicologist Zippi Fleischer came out to the shelves. “Matti Caspi is one of the geniuses of musical, historic and worldly creation” she writes. “He stands in the same row with Bach and Gershwin as the important mark makers of the development of the traditional harmonic language, on cardinal levels”.

That last statement is fundamentally wrong. The world outside of Israel doesn’t know Matti Caspi, which is why Caspi can’t have a far-spread worldly influence. And what about the bomb Fleischer drops in the first sentence (“One of the geniuses of musical, historic and worldly creation”)? The first instinct is to move in discomfort when hearing such a bombastic statement. It sounds like the mother of all exaggerations.

But wait, isn’t that what we all secretly think even when we listen to “You Took my Hand in Yours” for the two thousandth time? Or “Song of the Dove”? Or “Here Here”? Or “Someone”? Or “When God First Said”? And haven’t we all flirted with the idea that had Caspi been born in a different country or in a different time, he could’ve been considered to be one of the greatest composers of all time?

True, these are hypothetical stupid questions. And the question of genius doesn’t promote any true understanding. And Fleischer can’t really prove her extreme statement. Still, it’s good that she goes wild and makes that statement without fear. Because she says that when we listen to Caspi’s songs we are standing before the magnificence of creation: we are standing before an overwhelming musical perfection, aesthetically, emotionally and sensually.

“The Magic and the Riddle” is a book by a researcher who adores Caspi, just as this list was written by a journalist who adores him. It can be rightfully claimed that both lack a critical dimension, and of course, Caspi’s career, like any other artist’s, is worthy of a critical point of view. However, Fleischer doesn’t discuss Caspi’s career, but the songs that express the ”Matti Caspi nature” in its climax, and that nature, being perfect, needs no criticism.

“The Magic and the Riddle” is supposedly intended for the fans of Matti Caspi, and more specifically, for the composer’s / singer’s fans who are interested in the inner mechanism of his songs. For instance, “A Love Song (like a wheel)”. A while ago I hummed it to myself and was shocked to discover it has an entirely unanimous rhythmic pattern: the notes, from first to last, are placed in a pattern of pairs, maybe because it’s an intimate love song. Two by two they go by, like disciplined soldiers. But the absolute symmetry doesn’t put the song into a hard square splint. The melody is left breathing, free and dancing.

Fleischer mentions “Love Song” briefly. It isn’t one of the forty songs she analyses in her book, chord by chord. But the principal that exists in that song - a strict pattern which doesn’t contradict full freedom - is one of the basic principles of the “Matti Caspi” language according to her analysis. “Inside wonderfully solid patterns lies all the rhythmic and melodic richness, and the solid pattern allows the harmonic richness to flicker and go wild” writes Fleischer. “Only with this kind of frame can you develop unusual harmonic moves”.

Fleischer sees in Caspi a musical savage. “Matti’s musicality is animalistically wild, and it brings him to the point where he’s not afraid of anything - that’s why he’s so original” she writes. “He’s a very precise savage, and not less importantly: a dreamer savage. Spiritually and emotionally, I loved most of all the diving into the dream” writes Fleischer. “In every song I’ve found a dream. The songs are all, dreams first of all”. This impression expresses Fleischer’s combination of precise musical analysis and sensual listening which absorbs the heat and moist of the songs.

Caspi’s biography isn’t what the book is about, but we can’t help but mention a story from his childhood. In the early 50’s composer Mordechai Zaira used to visit the Hannita Kibbutz, where Caspi used to live, to work and vacation. One day when Zaira was playing the piano in the dining hall of the Kibbutz, 3 year old Matti stood beside him. “Would you like me to play for you”? asked Zaira and started to play “Little Yonathan”. “Not that way”! shouted Matti. Zaira asked who the boy’s mother was and when she arrived at the dining hall, Zaira told her: “You two would be idiot parents if you didn’t nurture and develop this talent. I don’t believe ‘Kibbutznicks’ (people raised in a Kibbutz). I have a boy his age - I’m taking him under my wing and train them both. When I make a human being out of him, then I’ll return him to you”.

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