Faure, Stravinsky & Debussy
Debussy: Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune
Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms
The Israel Kibbutz Choir
Yuval Benozer, cunductor
TUE | 20:00 | 1.7.14 (Tel Aviv)
WED | 20:00 | 2.7.14 (Jerusalem)
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
Symphony of Psalms
Exaudi orationem meam (Hear my prayer)
Expectans expectavi Dominum (I waited patiently for the Lord)
Alleluja, Laudate Dominum (Alleluia, Praise ye the Lord)
In 1929 Serge Koussevitzky, music director of the Boston Symphony, commissioned major works commemorating his orchestra's 50th anniversary the following year from four composers, Arthur Honegger, Sergei Prokofiev, Albert Roussel and Igor Stravinsky. Up until that time Stravinsky's major works, like Le Sacre du printemps, The Firebird, Pulcinella and others, were written for the ballet stage. The commission came at a perfect time as the Russian born composer was ready to change his composition efforts and concentrate on works specifically written for the concert platform. It was also perfect as for close to a decade Stravinsky expressed a clear desire to write a "symphonic work of considerable scope," as well as a significant liturgical opus.
On the manuscript Stravinsky wrote "This symphony, composed to the glory of GOD, is dedicated to the Boston Symphony Orchestra on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of its existence." But as the Boston premiere was postponed, the world premiere of this work was given on December 13, 1930 by the Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra under Ernest Ansermet. Six days later Koussevitzky led his Boston orchestra in the American premiere of the Symphony of Psalms. The symphony is written for a mixed chorus and orchestra with the addition of pianos and harp but without violins and violas. Its three movements are performed without interruption and the Psalms are sung in Latin.
Stravinsky did not wish to write a symphony in the classical sense of the term though. "Symphonic form as bequeathed to us by the 19th century held little attraction for me," he wrote. Instead his idea "was that my symphony should be a work with great contrapuntal development... I finally decided on a choral and instrumental ensemble in which the two elements should be on equal footing, neither of them outweighing the other."
The choice of the Psalms was quite natural. "I sought for my words, since they were to be sung, among those which had been written for singing. And quite naturally my first idea was to have recourse to the psalms." The final work, according to its creator, "is not a symphony in which I have included psalms to be sung. On the contrary, it is the singing of psalms that I am symphonizing." Listening to the way Stravinsky treats these psalms, one cannot help noticing a major difference between the way other composers treated these and similar verses. But all is with reason. "The Psalms are poems of exultation but also of anger and judgment and even of curses," he implies, adding that he specifically wanted to "counter the many composers who had abused these magisterial verses as pegs for their own lyrico-sentimental 'feelings'."
The first, very short movement, Psalm XXXIX 13,14, depicts the plea of the believer to is God.
The second movement, Psalm XL 2-4, features God's reply to the poet-believer. It is a double fugue reminiscent of Bach. The first fugue is an instrumental one in four parts which is then followed by a choral one. The two fugues develop independently until towards the conclusion of the movement choir and orchestra come together for the finale.
In the final, and the longest movement, Psalm CL -- the final psalm from which the composer omitted the sixth verse "Praise Him with the timbrel and dance," the composer eliminates the lyricism he has found in other musical settings of the psalms. The opening Alleluia and the following Laudate Dominum are rather slow and restraint and after an intensive climax the symphony ends with a very quite four note ostinato for the sopranos.
In 1948 the composer slightly revised this opus, this time using a much slower tempo for the coda of the final movement. However in his own recording of the symphony in 1963, Stravinsky actually observed the original tempo.
Requiem for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra
The composer was born on May 12, 1845 in Pamiers and died on November 4, 1924 in Paris. He composed this requiem in 1887.
When asked about the genesis of his requiem, Faure replied: “My requiem was not composed for a specific reason, it was written for pleasure, if I may venture to say so.” And in an interview he stated that he had “sought to get away from the conventional,” choosing to express his artistic sensibility, his personal concept of death “as a happy deliverance, an aspiration towards the happiness of the hereafter, rather than as a painful passing away.” The essential body of the work dates from the autumn of 1887 and the very beginning of 1888: Pie Jesu, Introit and Kyrie, In Paradisum, Agnus Dei and Sanctus in order of composition. These five movements were performed at the Madeleine in Paris on 16 January 1888 during a funeral service, under the direction of the composer, who was also the maitre de chapelle of the parish. Faure composed so quickly that he did not have time to complete the orchestration which was comprised of divided violas and celli, organ, harp and kettledrums. For another performance at the Madeleine in May 1888, he added two horns and two trumpets to this restricted ensemble.
The Offertorium was written at two different periods: sketched in 1887, only the baritone solo (Hostias) was completed in the spring of 1889, while the admirable chorus in canon that frames it was probably added to the work in 1894. The Libera me was first written for solo voice and organ in 1877 before being added to the Requiem in 1891. Here it contains three trombones. The style is so homogeneous that this somewhat complex genesis is completely imperceptible on listening to the work. At that time it continued to be performed under the direction of Faure by the relatively limited forces of the Madeleine: a children’s choir of about thirty voices singing the soprano and alto parts (women were excluded from the sanctuary, according to the Roman custom still in use), a few male voices (four basses and four tenors, reinforced by several additional voices for the high feasts), a double bass and the choir organ. The strings and wind instruments were added to this permanent ensemble for the occasion. The first soloists were Louis Aubert (a boy soprano from the choir) for the Pie Jesu and Louis Ballard, a soloist in the men’s choir, for the Offertorium and the Libera me. Faure's orchestration was so original (no violins, no woodwinds), that his publisher, Hamelle, advised him to prepare a version for full symphony orchestra before publishing the score. Things dragged on for so long that although the work was completed for a concert performance on May 17, 1894, it did not appear in print until 1900, and then only in a piano and vocal reduction by Roger Ducasse, and not until 1901 in full score. Since no manuscript of this published version has been found in the archives of either the publisher or the composer, it might be possible that Ducasse (a pupil of Faure) was the re-orchestrator of the requiem.
It was naturally of real interest to return to the composer’s original concept. The discovery of the original material of the Madeleine performance, corrected and in part copied by Faure himself provided us with an essential source, because the fragments of the manuscript orchestral score that have survived have several different states of the orchestration superimposed on top of each other and are often inextricable. In addition the three sections for the soloists are lacking. Today the requiem exists in the original version more apt for performances in church and in the symphonic version which suites better the concert hall.