Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Chichester Psalms - Part One

Last night PBS ran a wonderful program on the life of Leonard Bernstein.

Bernstein was one of the most notable men of music of the 20th Century. He was a conducter, composer, performer and teacher. He lived and breathed music.

In high school our choral group was fortunate to perform on several occasions with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Our teacher, Bob Knauf, drilled the songs and lyrics into our psyche. Last night I heard some snippets of a Bernstein composition, The Chichester Psalms. It brought back the floodgates of my memory.

The lyrics were in Hebrew. Mr. Knauf had no idea of their meaning, as he poked fun at some of the words. For instance V'roznim sounded a lot like Roast Beef and half of us were singing Roast Beef. (That word will be in the next blog segment)

Chichester Cathedral
The Chichester (pronounced Ch'ster)Psalms are so named as they were commissioned in 1965 for the Southern Cathedrals Festival held at Chichester Cathedral in West Sussex in the UK.

Bernstein states in the performance notes that the singer should be a countertenor or a boy soprano, but never a woman. He wanted the main singer to be a representation of King David as a boy. Bernstein was very much a Jew. And though he was non-practicing, his father was a Rabbi, he was fluent in Hebrew, Yiddish and German and wanted his work to be true to his beliefs and culture.

Chichester Cathedral Organ, on which the performance was first played
The Work is divided into 3 parts and a finale and is based on The Psalms of King David. Part One uses Psalms 100 and 108.

Here are the Anglicized Hebrew lyrics to Part One:

Urah hanevel v'chinor
Airah shachar

Hariu l'Adonai kol ha'aretz
Iv du et Adonai b'simcha
Bou l'fanav bir'nanah
D'u ki Adonai hu elohim
Hu asanu v'lo anahnu
Amo v'tson mar'ito
Bou sh'arav b'todah
Hatseirotav bit'hilah
Hodu lo baruch schmo
Kitov Adonai, l'olam hasdo
V'ador vador emunato


Awake, Psaltery and Harp!
I will rouse the dawn!

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all ye lands
Serve the Lord with gladness
Come before his presence with singing
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that has made us
We are his people.
Come unto his gates with thanksgiving
and into his court with praise
be thankful for him and bless him
the lord is good, his mercy everlasting
and his truth endures forever.

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