The tents of Abraham
a mirage-midrash

István Anhalt
Composition Date: 2003
Genre: Orchestra / Large Ensembles, Full Orchestra (20 or more)


Instrumentation Set Number 1:
  • 3 x Flute
  • 2 x Oboe
  • 2 x Clarinet
  • 3 x Bassoon
  • 5 x Horn
  • 3 x Trumpet
  • 2 x Trombone
  • 5 x Percussion
  • 1 x Harp
  • 1 x Piano
  • 1 x Unspecified bowed strings
  • 1 x Chamber orch.
Instrumentation Set Number 2:
  • 1 x Harp
  • 1 x Piano
  • 1 x Full orchestra
Programme Note:
Any attempt to arrive at an understanding of the racial/religious conflict in the Middle East is fraught with difficulties. How far back does one have to go to arrive at root causes? And if one can ascertain root causes, what is the hope for resolution? In confronting these questions, Istvan Anhalt found himself engrossed in a story that began 4,000 years ago, the story of Abraham. Abraham, the shared ancestor of Judaism, Christianity and Islam; Abraham, whom both Muslims and Jews invoke daily in their prayers; Abraham, God’s intimate, who was commanded by Him to leave his country and go to an as yet unnamed Land of Promise; whose first child was born, at the suggestion of his barren wife, Sarah, to his concubine, Hagar, this being Ishmael, progenitor of Islam, from whom Mohammed claimed descent; whose second child was born, miraculously, to Sarah when she was 90 and Abraham 100 years old, this being Isaac, progenitor of Judaism; who, however reluctantly, through Sarah’s insistence and with God’s approval, cast out Ishmael and Hagar; Abraham, about whom historically, outside of the Bible, we know nothing.
Music speaks to us in ways that words cannot. The Tents of Abraham, which the composer speaks of as “my attempt at showing how I feel about the tragic situation in which two intense people, the Jews and the Muslims, find themselves,” provides us with a vision of the Abraham story that only music can provide. Anhalt calls his work a mirage-midrash. We are in the presence of that wonderful Jewish word ‘midrash’ which one biblical scholar has referred to as “the Jewish way of saying that everything to be venerated in the present must somehow be connected with a sacred moment in the past. It is the ability to rework an ancient theme in a new context.” Accordingly, Anhalt sees Abraham, a central figure in both Bible and Koran, as a “potential symbol for a conceivable reconciliation between Jew and Muslim.”
Section one depicts the physical surroundings, the landscape of Canaan. Section two focuses on Abraham as leader/wanderer/iconoclast/visionary, as destroyer of idols in his search for the one true God. Section three illuminates the conflict between Sarah and Hagar as to who shall be first in Abraham’s eyes. Isaac, still a little boy, is mismatched with his teen-aged half-brother in the “Boys’ Games” of section four. Sarah looks on apprehensively, eager to see Hagar and Ishmael banished. The final section brings us to God’s promise for the descendents of Abraham: ‘The Heritage’. A ‘Question’ remains: can there be resolution? Can greater understanding of this complex tale lead us to solutions? We are left with the hope that what is yet to be accomplished can be accomplished.
The music is of great breadth and power and originality, a work whose significance for our times it is impossible to overstate. The dedication of The Tents of Abraham reads, “…for the peace-seeking descendents of Isaac and Ishmael…”
The Tents of Abraham was commissioned by the Kingston Symphony Association, and its conductor Glen Fast, with the financial support of the Ontario Arts Council.
Credits: Coles, James. Liner notes, Canadian Composers Portraits: Istvan Anhalt; Centrediscs CMCCD 10204, 2004.
Creator: James Coles
Subject: The Tents of Abraham
Date Created: 2004


  • Call Number:
  • MI 1100 A596ten 2003
  • Genre:
  • Orchestra / Large Ensembles, Full Orchestra (20 or more)
  • Date of Acquisition:
  • August 4, 2006
  • Type:
  • Print-music, Published by CMC
  • Physical Description:
  • 1 score ([115] p.) ;
    115 Pages
    Height: 43 cm
  • Additional Information:
  • For orchestra with keyboard and harp.


    This work was commissioned by the Kingston Symphony Association with the financial support of the Ontario Arts Council.

    Photocopy; master of score in CMC Toronto.
    The land -- The wanderer; Iconoclast-visionary (lekh lekha) -- A contest; wife and concubine -- The two sons (boys' games) -- Two promises; the heritage (the question)
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