The early months of 1894 were difficult for Antonin Dvorak. He had been in the United States for two years – the New World Symphony had been triumphantly premiered in December of the previous year – and now he learned that his father Frantisek was near death. Seeking refuge in the Psalms, he composed his cycle of Ten Biblical Songs during three weeks in March. The words are selections from the Psalms chosen from his beloved Czech translation of the Bible. They reflect both the composer’s distress (the third song “Hear, oh hear my prayer, Lord” takes its words from Psalm 55) and his faith and joy in the Lord (the fifth and central song “Songs of gladness will I sing” or “Bože! Bože! píseň novou” comes from Psalms 144 and 145 and rejoices in the great works of God).
Because this is Dvorak, the melodies are gorgeous; the simplicity of the settings makes the music uniquely personal (the songs were originally composed for alto and piano but are frequently performed in other arrangements). Soprano Eva Urbanova has said, “Even if Dvorak had only written Biblical Songs and nothing else, it wouldn’t have mattered. Whenever I get the chance to sing them, I feel like I’m in heaven.” In this performance, recorded during the music festival “The Days of Cyril and Methodius” held every year in Terchová, Slovakia, she is accompanied by Stanislav Surin.
Psalm 144:9: I will sing a new song to thee, O God;
upon a ten-stringed harp I will play to thee…
Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall laud thy works to another,
and shall declare thy mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of thy majesty,
and on thy wondrous works, I will meditate.
Men shall proclaim the might of thy terrible acts,
and I will declare thy greatness.
Bože! Bože! píseň novou
Zpívati budu Tobě na loutně,
A žalmy Tobě prozpěvovati.
Na každý den dobrořečiti budu Tobě
A chváliti jméno Tvé na věky věků.
Hospodin jistě veliký jest
A vší chvály hodný,
A velikost jeho
Nemůž vystižena býti.
O slávě a kráse a velebnosti Tvé,
I o věcech Tvých předivných mluviti budu.
A moc přehrozných skutků Tvých
Všichni rozhlašovati budou;
I já důstojnost Tvou