BERNSTEIN: Chichester Psalms / On the Waterfront

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BERNSTEIN: Chichester Psalms / On the Waterfront

BERNSTEIN: Chichester Psalms / On the Waterfront

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Raise a shout for the Lord, all the earth; worship the Lord in gladness; come into His presence with shouts of joy. Bernstein specifically called for the text to be sung in Hebrew (there is not even an English translation in the score), using the melodic and rhythmic contours of the Hebrew language to dictate mood and melodic character.

This event was preceded by a history of English curiosity about Jews and Judaism dating to the Puritan era of the Commonwealth and Protectorate in the 17th century, with some antecedents in much earlier ecclesiastical scholarship—although motivations were neither always completely benign nor unalloyed. More recently—despite alternating and ambivalent attitudes toward Jews that could range from outright anti-Semitism to, in some assessments, a curiously English brand of philosemitism—ancient and medieval Judaic history in particular appears to have ignited episodes of interest among some 19th-century English intellectual, literary, artistic, and even religious circles. Much of that interest could be viewed in relation to less than benevolent agendas. Still, on at least some levels, it could also transcend geopolitical or evangelical considerations. Each of the three movements comprises one complete psalm and an extract from another, complementary or contrasting, psalm. The first movement opens with a chorale on Psalm 108, verse 2: 'Awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early', which is followed allegro molto with Psalm 100 complete: 'Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands...' in a jazzy 7/4 rhythm punctuated with jaunty Latin American bongo drums. It consists of eight movements, with more and less traditional titles from ‘Waltz’ and ‘Mazurka’ to ‘Turkey Trot’ and ‘Sphinxes’. Bernstein based the music around the notes B and C, for ‘Boston’ and ‘Centennial’. Dr. Hussey was apparently concerned lest Bernstein feel restricted by the ecclesiastical parameters of the festival or the awesomeness of the Cathedral venue. In the 'Love Duet' that follows, the couple try to get a handle on what this 'love' thing might mean, how long it might last, whether it is lofty or banal, and whether any of this really matters. 'Scary, the way it flows, as if it knows the mystery; scary, the way it grows and grows, incessantly, evenly, unevenly...' The song they are singing is a metaphor for their relationship itself. Love turns out to be hard to define and impossible to conceptualise, neither soaring to great heights nor plunging into the depths, as the couple drift along within what might be termed an area of tolerable conflict.Chichester Psalms significantly features the harp; the full orchestral version requires two intricate harp parts. Bernstein completed the harp parts before composing the accompanying orchestral and choral parts, thus granting the harpists a pivotal role in realizing the music. In rehearsals, he is noted to have requested that the harpists play through the piece before the rest of the orchestra to emphasize the importance of the harps' role. A one-of-a-kind musician, Bernstein’s creativity spanned musical theatre, film scores, large-scale symphonies and operettas. Here are 10 of his all-time best...

This year, to celebrate Leonard Bernstein's centenary, the Chichester Psalms will once again be performed in the Cathedral on Saturday 24th November. This performance promises to be a major highlight of the year's celebrations. Susan Lewis: Why The Unusual Chichester Psalms is Quintessential Leonard Bernstein May 25, 2018 The second movement begins with the boy soloist, accompanied by harp, serenely setting forth the opening lines of Psalm 23. As the Psalm is taken up by female voices, however, Bernstein has the male section of the chorus sing verses from Psalm 2 (“Why do nations assemble, and peoples plot ...”—a text familiar to British audiences through Handel’s Messiah) to much more angular and agitated music, in which the noise of the percussion takes on a sinister meaning. This contrasted music of peace and war proceeds in uneasy counterpoint throughout the rest of the second movement. The next song is in Yiddish. ' Oif mayn Khas'neh' ('At my wedding') is a surreal and disturbing song about an enigmatic fiddler at a Jewish wedding. The guests do not know what to make of him and the sad old primitive music he plays. Bernstein's setting is raw and dissonant, and a Jewish cantorial passage in the middle of the song seems to sum up the emotion. The passion that inspires love can also be disturbing, even destructive. The song ends with a climactic prayer from the old folk: 'Have mercy!' A gentle and lyrical setting of Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd”) opens the second movement, featuring a boy soloist (eventually joined by soprano voices) with harp accompaniment, a musical evocation of King David, the shepherd-psalmist.

Pages in category "Psalms"

with a tranquil melody, sung by the boy treble (or countertenor), and repeated by the soprano voices in the chorus. This is abruptly interrupted by the orchestra and the low, rumbling sounds (again word painting) of the men's voices singing Psalm 2 (also notably featured in Handel's Messiah). This is gradually overpowered by the soprano voices (with the direction—at measure 102 in the vocal score only—"blissfully unaware of threat") with David serenely reaffirming the second portion of Psalm 23. However, the last measures of the movement contain notes which recall the interrupting section, symbolizing mankind's unending struggle with conflict and faith. In 1977 (or ’78), I was singing with the Choral Arts Society of Washington, DC. On the program was Chichester Psalms, which we were to perform with the Israel Philharmonic and Maestro Bernstein conducting. I had been chosen to sing the short alto solo in the first movement. Bernstein composed Chichester Psalms in 1965 during a conducting sabbatical from the New York Philharmonic. In a poem quoted by The New York Times that year, Bernstein described the process of composing the work, commissioned in 1963 by Walter Hussey, dean of the Chichester Cathedral, for a choral festival: The short 'Prelude' typifies an inner calm surrounded by external storms. The piano music is discordant and impetuous, but is calmly interrupted by the couple singing 'I love you. It's easy to say it and so easy to mean it too.' The piano seems to disagree, but the couple are off on an exploration of what 'I love you' means for them, how they can hold onto that in a turbulent world and where it might lead them. Theological as well as ceremonial and patrimonial aspects of Jewish antiquity seem to have had a special appeal at various periods. A few vestiges of that fascination can still be detected in the coronation ceremony of the English monarch—who, of course, is also the supreme head of the Church of England. A fair number of Christian English scholars, especially since the 18th century, have produced academic works concerning Judaic texts. And romanticized visual depictions of the Second Temple and other scenes of ancient Jerusalem were fashionable during the Victorian era—for example, among Pre-Raphaelite expressions.

Here they are together, right after the performance, live from Jerusalem. It was the first thing transmitted on the Israelian TV overall. Daniel Oren sings the boy soprano solo in Chichester Psalms with Bernstein. (Courtesy of Oren) Marjory Klein: Once in a Lifetime On 24 November 2018, as the finale of the Bernstein in Chichester celebrations to mark the centenary of Bernstein's birth, the choirs of Chichester Cathedral, Winchester Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral again joined forces to sing Chichester Psalms in Chichester Cathedral. They were accompanied by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop, a former pupil of Bernstein. [4] The treble solo was sung by the Chichester Head Chorister, Jago Brazier. Alexander Bernstein, Bernstein's son, was in the audience, as he had been in 1965. [4] Text and music [ edit ] Chichester Psalms, although a comparatively short work (less than 20 minutes in duration) is one of Bernstein's most popular pieces and provides a good introduction to his writing. It is full of Bernsteinian dramatic contrasts. It utilises his trademark lively, asymmetrical rhythms, often with five or seven beats to the bar; his angular melodies with large, surprising leaps; his placing of accents where least expected; his use of speech rhythm in song. The text is the original Biblical Hebrew, which Bernstein sometimes daringly manipulates to great dramatic effect. In addition to its recurrent renditions simply as a choral work on its own purely artistic merits, Chichester Psalms is often programmed with the explicit aim of illustrating a nexus between Christian and Judaic liturgical traditions that flows from their common reliance on the biblical Book of Psalms. From the earliest days of the Christian Church, the Psalms played a central role in the formation and development of its liturgies; and ancient psalmody (the logogenic, formulaic manner of intoning the Psalms, as well as other similar texts), which had become an established and formalized part of the Levitical Temple ritual in Jerusalem, figured prominently in the musical development of the early Church and its chant traditions—albeit probably indirectly through transmission via synagogues in surrounding Near Eastern communities. In medieval Christianity, apart from basic elements of the Creation story in Genesis, the Book of Psalms was the most familiar part of the Hebrew Bible. Illuminated manuscripts of that era (Psalters, Bibles, breviaries, and Books of Hours) frequently included accompanying illustrations relating to Psalms and Psalm-singing—for example, King David, who is reputed by legend and tradition to have composed many of the Psalms, playing on various musical instruments. The Book of Psalms was also among the first biblical books to be translated into vernacular languages in Europe and England (an Anglo-Saxon version appeared as early as the 8th century). From the early 16th century on, the Book of Psalms engendered many important English literary and creative adaptations and translations, including metrical versions that remain in use. In his initial correspondence with Bernstein, Dr. Hussey suggested a setting of Psalm 2. But Bernstein then proposed a “suite of Psalms, or selected verses from Psalms,” with the tentative title Psalms of Youth—in view of his conception of the music as “very forthright, songful, rhythmic, and youthful.” He subsequently abandoned that title in favor of the present one. As he commented in a letter to Dr. Hussey, the music turned out to be far more difficult to perform than the word “youth” might suggest—notwithstanding the fact that it requires a professional caliber boy or children’s choir.a b Serotsky, Paul (2003). "Leonard Bernstein / On the Waterfront / Chichester Psalms (1965) / On the Town". . Retrieved October 14, 2021. In the score, Bernstein notes that the soprano and alto parts were written "with boys' voices in mind," and that it is "possible but not preferable" to use women's voices instead. However, he states that the male alto solo "must not be sung by a woman," but either by a boy or a countertenor. [6] This was to reinforce the liturgical meaning of the passage sung, perhaps to suggest that Psalm 23, a "Psalm of David" from the Hebrew Bible, was to be heard as if sung by the boy David himself. [7]

The first performance in London took place on 10 June 1966 in the Duke's Hall of the Royal Academy of Music. Conducted by Roy Wales and performed by the London Academic Orchestra and London Student Chorale, it was paired with Britten's Cantata academica. It was published in 1965 by Boosey & Hawkes. [1]


In an effort to emphasize that he was not seeking a more narrowly liturgical piece in the traditional sense, nor a conservative work of more typically reverential High Church aesthetics, he encouraged Bernstein to write freely, without inhibitions. He even expressed the wish that the music might incorporate some of the composer’s Broadway side, telling Bernstein, “Many of us would be very delighted if there was a hint of West Side Story about the music.” Chichester Psalms juxtaposes vocal part writing most commonly associated with Church music (including homophony and imitation), with the Judaic liturgical tradition.

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