Showcase May-June 2014 - page 32

of the clarinets helps intensify the music’s consciously
“archaic” sound. Second, he included two pianos and
a harp, and used them percussively; their “strikes” of
sound help produce the work’s pointillistic sonority.
Finally, Stravinsky aimed for an “ancient” sound by
specifying that the soprano and alto parts should be
sung by boys rather than women, as was the practice in
early church music. However, Stravinsky himself and
nearly all others have used women rather than boys in
the chorus.
the music
The Symphony of Psalms is in three movements,
performed without break. Stravinsky said he composed
the first movement “in a state of religious and musical
ebullience”; it opens with recurrent cracks of sound
generated in large part by the two pianos. The chorus
enters with its plea to be heard, and the movement
drives to a soaring climax. The second movement is a
complex double fugue, first on a spiky subject for winds,
then for voices, and finally for combinations of the two.
The final movement is the most varied. The chorus’
is both somber and imbued with
splendor. A six-note sequence that was his original
musical idea for this work pulses quietly, then explodes
to life at the
Laudate Dominum
. Stravinsky said that
this central episode, with its athletic brass galloping
along brisk triplets, was inspired by a vision of Elijah’s
chariot ascending into the heavens. At the close, the
music moves steadily over a pulsing four-note ostinato.
This “final hymn of praise,” the composer noted, “must
be thought of as issuing from the skies, and agitation is
followed by the ‘calm of praise.’ ”
mixed choir with orchestra, comprising 5 flutes
(1 doubling piccolo), 4 oboes, English horn, 3 bassoons,
contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, piccolo trumpet,
3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, harp, 2 pianos and low strings
Program note by
Eric Bromberger
Program Notes
june 26, 27, 28, 29
travinsky’s Symphony of Psalms was one of an
impressive set of works commissioned by Serge
Koussevitzky to celebrate the Boston Symphony
Orchestra’s 50th anniversary in 1930. Before
receiving the commission Stravinsky had already been
thinking of composing a large-scale instrumental and
vocal work, and he was likely influenced in his choice
of subject for this project by his return in 1926, at age
44, to the Russian Orthodox church, in which he had
been raised. Still, his Symphony of Psalms is less a
statement of his individual beliefs than a generalized
expression of religious faith. Also, it is a “symphony”
by virtue of its bringing together various instruments
to create a symphonic work on a grand scale, not by
representing conventional symphonic form.
For his text Stravinsky turned to the Old Testament in
the Latin of the Vulgate, taking excerpts from Psalms
39 and 40 and using all of Psalm 150. He made unusual
decisions about instrumentation that helped give the
work a unique sound. He eliminated violins, violas and
clarinets from the orchestra, and the absence of the
bright, resonant upper strings and the smooth sonority
Igor Stravinsky
June 17, 1882, Oranienbaum
April 6, 1971, New York City
Symphony of Psalms
“Found” instruments such as North Shore stones, a
farmer’s plowshare and a Native American-style gourd
rattle represent the diverse heritage of our audience—
to whom Heitzeg dedicates the work; multiple choirs
come together in song. A welcoming fanfare leads to
lyrical reflection, followed by dancing rhythms and a
processional sung in canon, the “Great Round” of the title.
mixed choir with orchestra comprising 2 flutes,
piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet,
2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones,
tuba, timpani, 2 stones, driftwood, bass drum, tam-tam, claves,
cymbals, chimes, gourd rattle, plowshare,
xylophone, glockenspiel, harp and strings
1...,22,23,24,25,26,27,28,29,30,31 33,34,35,36,37,38,39,40
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