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About Moshe Wilensky

Moshe Wilensky was born on April 18, 1910 in Warsaw, Poland. With the outbreak of WWI, his family immigrated to the town of Mazyr in Russia, returning to Warsaw in 1917. Wilensky attended the Jewish secondary school “Ascala”, where the language of instruction was Polish. Apart from general studies (where he excelled as an amateur painter)Wilensky also studied Hebrew, Bible, and Jewish history. Wilensky completed his required studies in 1928.
Moshe Wilensky's musical talent and inclination were discovered at the age of four when he began playing on the family's piano by ear, but his formal musical studies would begin only years later. At the age of 13, Wilensky joined the youth movement “HaShomer HaTzair”, there he first learned the Eretz Israel songs by composers Joel Engel Mordechai Zeira And of people from the first aliyot The local chapter of Hashomer HaTzair had a choir that was founded and led by the composer and educator Yitzchak Edel, who Wilensky regarded as his mentor and who greatly influenced his musical path. Later on, Wilensky began studying music theory with Yitzchak Edel, and with Edel's recommendation continued on to the Warsaw Conservatory. Wilensky was accepted and immediately entered the second year of studies, graduating in 1932 from the department of composition and conducting led by Prof. Rittel.
In 1932 Wilensky made Aliyah with his family, settling in Tel Aviv. During the years 1936-1939 he studied engineering at the Heinrich Hertz Technion in Tel Aviv. In 1939 Wilensky married the actress Berta Yakimovska.


A page from Moshe Wilensky's music workbook from his time as a student at the Conservatory in Warsaw






Moshe and Berta Wilensky in the 40's, Tel Aviv

Already in his first year in Eretz Israel, Wilensky was named lead pianist and musical manager of the satiric theater “HaMatate” (The Broom), which served as a stage for current political satire that reflected the atmosphere of the settlement of those days. Wilensky composed the music for the show's melodies and musical interludes, and accompanied the theater's rehearsal s and performances on the piano.​


Members of the "Mitatea" theatre troupe on the way to a performance. Moshe Wilensky is in the left window


In addition to his work at “HaMatate”, Wilensky composed and arranged music for the satiric theater “Kol HaRuchot” (All the Spirits). It was for this theater that Wilensky composed the music to Nathan Alterman's Tzarich LeTzaltzel Pa'amayim (1939), one of the most popular songs of the time. Wilensky also composed for a variety of musical events across the country, for children's plays, and for singers with whom he worked. Wilensky regarded himself as collaborator and partner to artists who already in the thirties were trying to create an Israeli style and original folk music, and who emphasized the ethnic aspects of songs. While accompanying the singer Ester Gamlielit on the piano during a tour across the country, Wilensky was exposed to the songs of Jewish Yemenites and composed a number of songs with a pronounced “eastern” tone (among these Ani Gedalya Reva Ish by Nathan Alterman). Wilensky began closely collaborating with the nation's finest songwriters and poets, among them Emanuel Harussi, Ya'akov Orland, and Nathan Alterman especially. Wilensky quickly became responsible for setting the tone for popular Israeli music and was the man behind serious “hits”.
Wilensky was one of the first composers in Israel to have his work recorded. His first songs (Doda Hagidi Lanu Ken and others), as well as arrangements and melodies he composed for colleagues' songs appeared on celluloid-coated carton records produced by the company “Achva Beit Charoshet LeTaklitim Ve'LePatiphonim. The record covers read “Made in Israel”.
In 1936 Wilensky, along with manager Ze'ev Markovich, founded “Akum”, an organization of composers, writers, and publishers for the protection of copyrights in the fields of music and literature. The two recruited leading poets, writers, and composers to the organization, among these Leah Goldberg, Avraham Shlonsky, Alexander Penn, Yedidya Admon, Mordechai Zeira, Emanuel Amiran, and others.

In 1944 the “Li-La-Lo” review theater was founded, which unlike the social satire at the “HaMatate” theater, presented the audience with songs and melodies interlaced with light comedic interludes. Wilensky was named musical director and house composer for the theater and many of his songs were performed by leading female singers of the time: Jenny Lubich (Bechol Zot Yesh Ba Ma'shehu, performed by Ily Gorlisky and Yona Atari), Mina Bern (Tango Kfar Saba, performed by Rachel Atias ), Jeta Luka (Ani Chadash Ba'Aretz), and most notably by the up and coming Shoshana Damari. It was then that Wilensky and Damari joined forces, and he went on to write many of her biggest hits (Kalaniyot, Ani Mi'Tzfat, Miriam Bat-Nisim). Most of these to the words of Nathan Alterman.


Moshe Wilensky and Shoshana Damari in concert, 1964








A lifelong and proliferant collaboration began here, or as was written in the press: “The Trio of Israeli Song – Alterman, Wilesnky, and Damari.” For many years, numerous songs recorded by Damari came to be known for her interpretation and as such were recognized as her own and she as their sole performer. The unique connection between Wilensky and Damari and the mutual inspiration that existed between the two made it so that many songs were composed by Wilensky especially for her and her voice, all the while Damari infusing them with that certain “Yemenite fragrance” with her delivery.
With the outbreak of the War of Independence, Wilensky and the poet Haim Feiner (later Hefer) wrote songs for the Palmach Band “HaChizbatron” which quickly became an inseparable part of the time's soundtrack: Shir HaChablanim, HaChizbat, Hayu Zmanim, Bat-Sheva, Ze Hakol Inyan Shel Ofi, HaKrav HaAcharon, and more.



                 Moshe Wilensky, holding an 
     accordion, and Shoshan Damari 
     performing for soldiers during 
     the War of Independence




​Moshe Wilensky and Shoshana Damari toured the country together during the fighting, performing for soldiers. Wilensky and Damari delivered the announcement of the new country to the Cyprus detention camps at the peak of fighting, as emissaries for the “Committee for the Cyprus Exiles”. For six days they performed tirelessly for the camps' residents, the local makeshift hospitals, and clinics. The performances attracted thousands of all ages who were hearing Hebrew songs for the first time.    ​


  Program of Shoshana Damari 
  and Moshe Wilensky's          
  performance in the internment 
  camps in Cyprus




Wilensky and Damari performed together again in the 50's, this time in the United States. They performed from coast to coast, including Jewish centers such as New York and Broadway, and had immense success with the Jewish American communities.
During this time Wilensky was named manager of the record company "Hed Artzi", who was distributing most of the local popular records of the time. It was also at this time that Wilensky began fervently composing songs for army bands (Chasake, HaMalach Sheli, BeEilat), and especially for the "Nachal Band" (Bein HaMagal VeHacherev, Matilda), and for the band "Batzal Yarok" (Venezuela). In addition, Wilensky composed music for movies and dance shows, and for the musical-operetta "Shulamit", where Shoshana Damari had a starring role. Wilensky had an ardent collaboration with the poet Yechiel Mohar during these years as well. The collaboration between the two brought about some of the most well known and recognized songs of that time - Hora Mamtera, Shir Eres Negbi, Kita Almonit, Rak Lo Sayar, Mul Har Sinai, Rachel Rachel, Ya Mishlati, and many others.

In 1969 Moshe Wilensky was invited to manage the The Bidur orchestra, The Voice of Israel. Wilensky regarded this as an  opportunity to bring to fruition his deepest desires in the field of composition. At this position, Wilensky was the first in Israel to create symphony arrangements and accompaniments to Hebrew Song. His symphonic work was done to the utmost of standards and was recognized as such at the International Song Festival, which was held in Poland in 1962. There, Wilensky's song, Stav, won first place in orchestration and second place for best song. The composers who succeeded Wilensky regarded him as their arranging and orchestration teacher and all Hebrew Song composed since his time carries his mark. Wilensky's ardor for recording – he led and pushed forward a recording enterprise – contributed greatly to the the preservation of the songs of his time and those before him for the generations to come.




Moshe Wilensky conducting "The Voice of Israel Orchestra" in the Y.M.C.A. in Jerusalem










​In 1965 Wilensky was named musical manager of the successful production of  “Opera BeGrush” (by Bertolt Brecht), and during the same year composed music for songs for the show “Shuk HaMetziot”, starring Yona Atari and Eli Gorlitzky. Among the most successful songs from the musical written by Nathan Alterman and Moshe Wilensky are Limon VeTzalachat and Elimelech. Most of the show's songs (some composed by Sasha Argov and Dubi Zeltzer) were recorded and distributed on records, gained massive success, and remained recognized by the public for decades after. Wilensky also composed the musicals "Fishka", based on the story by Mendele Mocher Sfarim, and "Same'ach BaNamal" with Dan Almagor. In 1978 Moshe Wilensky retired from work in radio.

Moshe Wilensky, (second from left) and Shoshana Damari, Dan Almagor, Sasha Argov, (first from left) ca. the beginning of the 70's







In 1983 Wilensky was awarded the Israel Prize for his musical oeuvre and for his contribution to the Hebrew Song. From the judges' statement: "Wilensky is Israel's most studious composer... his songs and melodies were the first to be absorbed by the Hebrew settlement, they have been sung by all and many continue to be sung today".

In 1986 Wilensky won the "Akum" Prize for lifetime achievement, and in that same year was awarded the title of "Notable Personality of Tel Aviv".

Moshe Wilensky composed music for the texts of leading poets, and these were all treated to his unique and sensitive care: C.N. Bialik, Nathan Alterman, Miriam Yelen Shteklis, Yechiel Mohar, Oded Avishar, Emanuel Harussi, Alexander Penn, HaRav Kook, Tirtza Atar, Rachel Shapira, Haim Hefer, Ya'akov Orland, Haim Keinan, Rafael Kalachkin, Nathan Yonatan, Dan Almagor, Yehuda Amichai, Ehud Manor, Amos Ettinger, Shimrit Or, Yoram Taharlev, and many others.

Notable singers – older and younger – performed his songs while he suited his music and styles to the myriad singers who performed them – Ester Gamlieli, Shoshana Damari, Yafa Yarkoni (Finjan), Ester Ofarim, Chava Alberstein (Kol Yom Ani Me'abedet), Nechama Hendel (Haya Hu Afor VeShotek, BeYom Kaitz Yom Cham Et HaShemesh Mimarom), Yoram Gaon (Yesh Li Chalom, Layla Shel Prichot), Avi Toledano (Zohi Yafo), Arik Einstein (Shalechet BaLev), Nurit Galron (Balada LaIsha), and more.

Moshe Wilensky died in Tel Aviv on January 2, 1997.