Biblical Compositions is a diverse collections of works dealing with biblical subjects in contemporary settings. Styles range from impressionistic to aleatory, dissonant to euphonious. The essence is the expressive quality of each selection from the epic Song of Moses (Ha'azinu) for contrabass and orchestra to the intimate Three Ancient Songs for flute and guitar; or aleatory applications in Balaam and the Ass for trombone and percussion, and Rainbow whose seven saxophones depict the seven colors of the rainbow; or the euphonious Psalterion - an evocation of a celestial harp.
Ha'azinu, a cantata for contrabass and orchestra, is an instrumental characterization of Moses’ farewell song to the children of Israel. It foretells the history and prophetic mission of the Jewish people, and contrasts God’s promise of loving kindness and faithfulness - with Israel's ingratitude and faithlessness. It was premiered by contrabassist, Gary Karr and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, under conductor, Arthur Fagan (1993).
Text and Subtext, Music and Musical Exegesis
In Ha’azinu, the contrabass - slow of speech and heavy of tongue, as Moses is purported to be in the Bible - takes on the part of the Law-giver: exhorting, reproving, justifying the ways of God to man. The eternal witnesses of heaven and earth are portrayed by the orchestra. This unique musical conception rests upon on a number of traditional sources evoking powerful overtones in relation to the Jewish experience: the spirit of European cantorial song, a liturgical hymn Yigdal as sung in the Yemenite tradition, and a Hassidic wedding nigun played at the bridal canopy. Personifying the sacred union between bride and groom, it is a metaphor for the covenant between the children of Israel and their God). The deep string voice and its declamation of text purport to render, faithfully, a truth that shakes the universe. Motifs are not so much quotations as stylizations of traditional prayer modes and cantorial idioms drawn from the world of synagogue song. Harmonic sonorities and textures vary from spare unisons and open intervals to chords and polychords of many colors and complexities. The cantata is structured in eight scenes, which flow together in episodic fashion.
Balaam and the Ass is a mini drama. The form of the work follows the biblical narrative (Numbers 22:21-35) in a steady crescendo of continuity. Instruments are used to convey the story and portray its three characters literally: Balaam, Ass, and Angel. The heathen prophet beats and curses; the Ass brays, bawls and speaks; the angel of God draws its sword of judgment under wings of mercy. Unique is the carefully graded balance between tonality, atonality and non-tonality, which is employed allegorically, to depict various levels of consciousness and awareness distinguishing man from beast.
This duo for trombone and percussion explores a broad spectrum of sonorities and timbres within a flexible rhythmic time-frame. At first, the animal snores and growls in undefined pitches. Later, as the work develops, the Ass is transformed. In consequence of her encounter with the angel, she begins to speak, sing, and eventually, pray her braying song to God. This metamorphosis involves exchanging for non-pitched sound effects, definite pitches, in ever clearer tonality; gradually, almost imperceptibly, consolidating isolated notes into conglomerates that coalesce into warm, resonant sonorities. From brutish cacophony to euphonious song, through grunts and groans and spoken words, the process of human evolution, growth, and development is translated into sound.
Three Ancient Pieces for flute and guitar: Shepherd Song (after Psalm 23), Parable (after Psalm 49:5), and Birdsong as full of Oriental melisma based on Jewish- Yemenite, Morrocan, and Tunisian folklore.
Rainbow (1985) by Max Stern is a descriptive account of Noah's Flood.
Rains - Winds - Gathering of the Waters - Scurrying of the beasts –
The Flood - Opening of the Windows of Heaven - Prevalence of the Waters –
Sending forth of the Raven and Doves – Rainbow
Scored for seven saxophones, each instrument symbolizes one of the seven colors of the rainbow. To simulate naturalistic effects, performers are called upon to make extraneous noises and employ extended instrumental techniques, such as: blowing into instruments, clicking keys, and singing both pitched and non-pitched sounds while playing. Its structure follows the biblical narrative, building to a climax then receding to behold the rainbow (Gen 7 and 8).
Psalterion an instrument of 10 strings is from the Psalter (Psalm 33:3) symbolic of the perfect harmony of the future.