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    Marc Chagall window, Chichester Cathedral

    Bernstein’s Psalms of Peace

    By Marianne Wright

    July 21, 2014
    • Laura Short

      If I may... Bernstein's Chichester Psalms is an extended setting of *six* psalms/portions of psalms. It opens with Ps 108:2(3) followed by Ps 100. The second movement, as you wrote, is Psalm 23 interrupted then "tag-teamed" with Ps 2:1-4. The third and last movement is Ps 131 followed by the finale of Ps 133:1. I sang this my first year at university, 1973/74 as part of a program of contemporary religious music (Stravinsky and Kodaly were included). I still remember learning the Hebrew lyrics as well as every jot and tittle of the music. I also still have my original score. It's a challenging piece, even now, as a seasoned musician some 46 years later, but I absolutely love it. I'm happy to see it's still around and appreciated for its beauty and the strength of its message.

    • Patricia

      Thank you for your inspiring articles. Shalom

    The Plough Music Series is a regular selection of music intended to lift the heart to God. It is not a playlist of background music: each installment focuses on a single piece worth pausing to enjoy.

    The first book of Samuel tells how Saul – having disobeyed God – was tormented by an evil spirit, and sent for David, who was known as a skilled musician. “Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.” (1 Samuel 16:23)

    David as musician is very present in Leonard Bernstein’s setting of five psalms, which was commissioned in 1965 for an annual music festival held at Chichester Cathedral. In specific, David’s boyhood as a shepherd is recalled in the second movement: the composer insisted that the soloist who sings the Twenty-third Psalm be a boy, and the movement opens with a rising scale on the harp. (The harp is prominent throughout the piece, and Bernstein completed the harp parts before working on the music for the choir and orchestra.) The tranquil confidence of the solo “I fear no evil, for thou art with me” is interrupted by a dissonant setting for tenors and basses of Psalm 2: “Why do the nations rage?” which in turn is overpowered by a return to Psalm 23 sung by treble voices that are “blissfully unaware of threat,” as Bernstein directed in the score. “This will be our reply to violence,” he had written in 1963, “to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

    The Chichester Psalms end with words from Psalms 131 and 133 – a prayer for Israel that can be prayed with special significance today.

    Let Israel hope in the Lord from henceforth and forever.

    Behold how good, and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.

    "David" and sopranos (Psalm 23)

    Adonai ro-i, lo eḥsar.
    Bin'ot deshe yarbitseini,
    Al mei m'nuḥot y'nahaleini,
    Naf'shi y'shovev,
    Yan'ḥeini b'ma'aglei tsedek,
    L'ma'an sh'mo.

    The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,
    He leadeth me beside the still waters,
    He restoreth my soul,
    He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness,
    For His name's sake.

    Sopranos (Psalm 23)

    Gam ki eilech
    B'gei tsalmavet,
    Lo ira ra,
    Ki Atah imadi.
    Shiv't'cha umishan'techa
    Hemah y'naḥamuni.

    Yea, though I walk
    Through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
    For Thou art with me.
    Thy rod and Thy staff
    They comfort me.

    Tenors and basses (Psalm 2:1-4)

    Lamah rag'shu goyim
    Ul'umim yeh'gu rik?
    Yit'yats'vu malchei erets,
    V'roznim nos'du yaḥad
    Al Adonai v'al m'shiḥo.
    N'natkah et mos'roteimo,
    V'nashlichah mimenu avoteimo.
    Yoshev bashamayim
    Yis'ḥak, Adonai
    Yil'ag lamo!

    Why do the nations rage,
    And the people imagine a vain thing?
    The kings of the earth set themselves,
    And the rulers take counsel together
    Against the Lord and against His anointed.
    Saying, let us break their bands asunder,
    And cast away their cords from us.
    He that sitteth in the heavens
    Shall laugh, and the Lord
    Shall have them in derision!

    Sopranos (Psalm 23)

    Ta'aroch l'fanai shulchan
    Neged tsor'rai
    Dishanta vashemen roshi
    Cosi r'vayaḥ.

    Thou preparest a table before me
    In the presence of my enemies,
    Thou anointest my head with oil,
    My cup runneth over.

    "David" (Psalm 23)

    Ach tov vaḥesed
    Yird'funi kol y'mei ḥayai
    V'shav'ti b'veit Adonai
    L'orech yamim.

    Surely goodness and mercy
    Shall follow me all the days of my life,
    And I will dwell in the house of the Lord


    Marc Chagall window, Chichester Cathedral Stained glass window, by Marc Chagall, Chichester Cathedral, inspired by Psalm 150: “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.”
    Contributed By MarianneWright Marianne Wright

    Marianne Wright, a member of the Bruderhof, lives in southeastern New York with her husband and five children.

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