Next week I’ll be performing two very different settings of Psalm 23 — Schubert’s version and Rutter’s arrangement of The King of Love My Shepherd Is — in a choral concert. Preparing the music made me curious to explore how other composers have treated this text. A few “pastoral” techniques and textures (harp, oboe, running triplets) turn up often; but overall I found the variety amazing. Here are some of my favorites:
Heinrich Schütz, “Der Herr ist mein Hirt” from Psalmen Davids
If, like me, you don’t know German, I recommend listening with a translation nearby. Schütz paid particular attention to text painting (music written to bring out the meaning of the words). For example, I love the moment at 2:01 where the instruments drop out and the vocal texture reflects the solemn line, “And if I had walked a valley of the shadow of death.”
Franz Schubert, Gott ist mein Hirt, D. 706
Schubert originally wrote this SSAA arrangement as a vocal examination piece for his friend Anna Frolich. Another piece of musical trivia: he used the German translation of Moses Mendelssohn, Felix Mendelssohn’s grandfather. I love the simplicity and beautiful harmonic progressions of this setting.
Leonard Bernstein, “Adonai Roi” from Chichester Psalms
Bernstein combines the Hebrew texts for Psalm 23 and Psalm 2 in the second movement of his Chichester Psalms. This is haunting music. The sparse, lyrical opening of boy soprano and harp is jarringly disturbed mid-way through the movement (3:26 in the above video) by the male chorus with the Psalm 2 text (“Why do the nations rage so furiously together?”). The juxtaposition of these two psalms throughout the remainder of the movement musically represents the reality of ongoing spiritual struggle and conflict.
John Rutter, “Psalm 23: The Lord is My Shepherd” from Requiem
A very lyrical setting that functions as an interlude in Rutter’s Requiem. Rutter uses a similar vocal texture as Schütz to mark the line, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”
Paul Creston, Psalm XXIII
A rhapsodic and virtuosic version for solo voice and piano. My first encounter with Creston’s vocal rep.
Z. Randall Stroope, Psalm 23
A soaring, moving setting for treble choir, flute, oboe, and piano by a contemporary American composer.
A couple others that aren’t well-represented on YouTube:
- Herbert Howells, “Psalm 23″ from Requiem – Beautiful acappella setting
- Ralph Vaughan Williams, The Twenty-Third Psalm – Originally from his opera, The Pilgrim’s Progress
February 24, 2011 2 Comments
Who is Heinrich Schütz, you ask? Schütz (born today in 1585) is not a household name, but his music has had a profound impact on the history of Western music. Generally considered one of the most important composers of the 17th century, Schütz was a major influence on Bach and Handel. His long career spanned what we now term the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods; and his output fuses the intricate counterpoint of the former and the declamatory nature of the latter. In fact, his music has been described as “standing at the parting of the ways between Palestrina and Bach.” Like Bach, he was a Kapellmeister and organist; most of his surviving work is sacred choral/vocal music.
One of the most distinctive features of Schütz’s music is his attention to text-setting:
Schütz’s main interest as a composer was in the word, its individual meaning and mimetic depiction through music…He used a variety of musical means – rhythmic, melodic, harmonic, textural and structural – to manipulate a text and create specific musical affects to enhance its message, and his greatness stems partly from the integration of many of these stylistic traits
A typical German, as opposed to Italian, feature is his frequent use of imitative technique to enrich the texture and thus intensify a text, without, however, obscuring it. (Grove Music Online)
Here’s a short informational video on Schütz, followed by a performance of his setting of Psalm 100:
October 8, 2010 No Comments