Back in May of 1998, I performed (sang) a concert of Antonín Dvo?ák’s Biblical Songs (Op. 99) using my computer as an accompanist. Here is the write-up that appeared on the program notes:
DvorÃ¡k’s Biblical Songs were written in March of 1894, during his stay in the United States as the director of the National Conservatory located in New York City. There he advised young American composers to use the American folk idiom, especially Negro spirituals and certain Native American rhythms, as the basis for a body of new American music. It was during this time he was informed of the death of the famous conductor, and close personal friend, Hans von BÃ¼low. Just a month earlier, DvorÃ¡k was grieved to hear that his father was near death, far away in Bohemia. As fate would have it, his father expired 2 days after the completion of Biblical Songs.
Unlike many composers of his day, DvorÃ¡k did not console himself in excess. After all, he had dealt with death before. In November 13, 1877, after burying all three of his children in the space of two years, DvorÃ¡k completed the score to the Stabat Mater. DvorÃ¡k’s most famous choral work, is based on a 13th century Latin poem depicting Mary’s contemplation of the crucifixion of her Christ.
This time, DvorÃ¡k would console himself in the Psalms. The resulting work , considered the finest of his song cycles, is none other than the ten Biblical Songs, opus 99.
I became acquainted with these pieces in dealing with the grievous loss of some family members back in ’97 and ’98. I now revisit these pieces with the horrific news we received in an emergency room on the way back from our vacation that my wife and I have lost our second child, 12 weeks in the womb, due to a miscarriage. Please pray for me as my heart breaks. Mostly, I ask for you to pray for my wife as she now suffers painful emotions of the loss – for though I try to convince her she’s done nothing wrong – the evil one taunts her with guilt and doubt.
|* NOTE * These pieces were performed with by aiming the MIDI files at a Korg 03R/W – in other words, they’re likely to sound pretty ‘Twinkie‘ on your sound card unless you rework the instrumentations using a synthesizer/sound module like the Korg 03R/W.
|1||Clouds and Darkness||Psalm 97||G||3/8||Andantino||55 ms.||Through Composed||March 13-15|
|This singer takes on the characteristic of the
a Shakespearean narrator, offering considerable and
dramatic word painting. Standing in awe near the
singed earth and melted mountains, the narrator
describes the nature of God upon His Throne.
|2||Lord, Thou art my Refuge and Shield||Psalm 119||G-Emi||4/4||Andante||26 ms||modified strophic (A1 + codetta +
A2 + codetta)
|Here, in a leider style reminiscent of Schubert,
the singer calls upon the Lord to help the singer
in live righteously, though tempted by evil
men, and embodied in a sinful host.
|3||Hear My Prayer, Oh Lord My God||Psalm 55||Bb-B-Bb||3/4||Andante||62 ms.||Through-Composed||March 21-27|
|With Brahms-like tertian and chromatic modulations,
the singer portrays the role of the penitent.
Drowning in a sea of despair, the singer floats his
sighs and cries to the Lord; hoping later in the
song to fly above them on the wings of eagles and
ascend to the Peace of God.
|4||God is my Shepherd||Psalm 23||B||4/4||Andante||32 ms.||Rondo-like, or highly modified strophic
(A1 + B1 + A2 +
B2 + A3 + codetta)
|Through the and elegant simplicity of this piece,
the singer portends the Peace of God that is poured
upon those who offer an uncomplicated, child-like
devotion to God that Christ commanded of us in
|5||I Will Sing New Songs of Gladness||Psalms 144 & 145||Ab||4/4||Resoluto, Maestoso||53 ms.||modified strophic ternary (A1 +
A2 + A3+ B + A4 +
|In the harmonic style of the Negro Spiritual, this
piece joyfully bounces along with three static
stanzas until it explodes in a flourish of intense
chromaticism. Here the singer delivers eighteen
different chromatic/enharmonic pitches in just six
measures; which resolve back to the original key,
in time for the emphatic delivery of the a
triumphant, final strophe.
|6||Hear My Prayer, Oh Lord||Psalms 61 & 63||D||4/4||Andante||41 ms.||modified strophic ternary (A1 +
A2 + B + A3)
|As is common with all man, the singer ‘s new joy is
clouded with doubts and worries; causing the singer
to cry out to God. However, unlike the third song,
here the singer reveals a strong underlying hope
that God will deliver the comfort and relief the
singer so dearly desires.
|7||By The Waters of Babylon||Psalm 137||Cmi-Eb||3/8||Andante||60 ms.||modified strophic ternary (A1 +
A2 + B + A3 + Coda)
|Again, the singer is the narrator, on this time in
the style of Schubert’s Erlkonig. Here the singer
complains of his tormentors, then mocks them, and
then in defiance, vows never to crumble or cave-in
to destructive demands.
|8||Turn Thee to Me||Psalm 25||Abmi-Ab||3/8||Andante||38 ms.||Modified Strophic (A1 + A2 +
|Here the singer, exhausted and cried-out, an almost
Brahm’s like nocturne starts harmonic uncertainty.
Then seeing past his own torment, the singer
confesses his sin, and asks the Lord into his life.
In doing so, the piece lurches from minor to a
Major key, and concludes in a joy brought out of a
restored relationship with God.
|9||I Will Turn My Eyes up to The Mountains||Psalm 121||F-Fmi-Ab||3/8||Andante con motto||45 ms.||Through Composed||March 5-8|
|Forgiven, restored and comforted, the singer again
engages in extensive word-painting as he reveals
the loving-kindness of the Lord.
|10||Sing ye a Joyful Song||Psalms 98 & 96||F||2/4||Allegro moderato||72 ms.||Modified Strophic (A1 + A2 +
A3 + Codetta)
|Having received the gift of God, the singer for the
first time looks outward, and in doing so
encourages everything under Heaven and Earth to
sing joyful praises unto the Lord!
I have also made available a page of the actual lyrics along with the copyright notice regarding the MIDI file performances.
Forgive me now as I take a break from this site for a day or two to collect my thoughts and deal with my grief and attend to my wife.