The First Music Writer To Use “Amarevole” In A Sentence Wins

By: Maura / May 29, 2009

The deciding word in last night’s Scripps National Spelling Bee was a musical term: “amarevole,” which, according to the wire stories on the bee’s results, is “a musical term that means ‘with bitterness, poignantly.'” But while trying to find out just how one could use it, I noticed that there aren’t many references to the word online that employ it in the context of an English sentence; they’re either in Italian or references to the spelling bee. (Even the word’s entry on is behind a pay wall.) One insight on its proper use comes from a paper on Russian composer Moses Milner’s early-20th-century work “In Chejder (In School),” which composer and musicologist Sam Zerin presented at a conference earlier this year:

Milner begins his song with the teacher’s enthusiastic salutation, welcoming the student to come inside and learn with him, in a passage marked andante cantabile and amarevole [sic]. “Amarevole” is an interesting word – actually, it is not a word at all. It could be a spelling mistake, as suggested by Jascha Nemtsov, intended to be “amorevole”, which means “lovingly”. Such an indication would certainly describe a typical chejder teacher’s attitude towards his students. On the other hand, “amarevole” could be a hybrid word with “amaro”, which means “bitter”. If the latter is intended–and, in fact, it would not be the only instance in this particular song where Milner is making up ironic vocabulary–then it is surely an element of satire, because the music itself seems to suggest that the teacher is actually very happy to see the student, very calm, and not in any particular hurry. The teacher appears, in the music, to take his time with his greeting, as indicated by the natural, flowing rhythms; the presence of a fermata at the end of the first measure of the vocal line (measure 5); the long half-bar rest at the beginning of bar 7, where the teacher pauses to contemplate the beauty and sacredness of the “beloved, golden letters”; the long half-notes at the ends of the following two measures; the ritardando cadence; and even the mostly uninvolved piano accompaniment which avoids any harmonic, rhythmic, or contrapuntal hindrances to the teacher’s “loving” – amorevole – invitation (see example on the following page)

And yet, the text seems to contradict this musical patience. “Gicher, gicher,” he says. “Quickly, quickly, come here!” One might even interpret a macaronic double-entendre: in Yiddish, the teacher says “kum aher” – “come here”. But if you transfer the last letter ‘m’ from the end of ‘kum’ over to the beginning of the following word ‘aher’–as you might naturally do if you say very quickly “kum-aher”–then you get the Hebrew word “maher”, which also means “quickly.” So if the music itself seems to suggest the teacher’s patient “amore”–love–then the text is full of impatient “amaro”–bitterness.

So, there you have it. Double meanings! Although not enough to excuse the misspelling of the word by the person who lost the bee.

San Jose girl faces ‘amarevole’ music [SF Chronicle]
Sam Zerin [University Of Michigan]
[Image via Luigi Ricci]