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Israelis You Should Know: Josef Tal

Etan Tal

Name: Josef Tal

Life: September 18, 1910 - August 25, 2008

Known for: Josef Tal was an Israeli composer and one of the founding fathers of Israeli art music.

About him: Josef Tal was born in what is present-day Poland, but his family soon moved to Berlin, where they ran an orphanage and where his father was a rabbi who specialized in ancient languages. Young Josef first came to love music in the synagogue and soon studied piano and composition in Berlin, completing his studies in 1931. But being Jewish, Josef had no job prospects in Germany. Instead, he began studying photography, in hopes that such a job would allow him to make aliyah (immigrate) to British-mandate Palestine.

In 1934, Tal's dream came true, as he made aliyah with his wife and their young son. First living on a kibbutz, and then in Jerusalem, Tal devoted his life to music - playing piano, giving lessons, and as the harpist of the new Palestine Orchestra (today's Israel Philharmonic Orchestra).

For the rest of his life, Tal taught music at the Palestine Conservatory, acted as director of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, and was professor and musicology chair at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. All the while, he also served as conductor and pianist for orchestras around the world.

But it was Josef Tal's musical compositions that cemented his legacy. His works include three Hebrew operas, four German operas, six symphonies, thirteen concerti, chamber music, three string quartets, and countless instrumental works and electronic pieces. Tal's challenging compositions, unique sonority, dramatic gestures, and bursts of energy have kept his music alive even after his death, making him one of Israel's most beloved composers.

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