There are 150 psalms in the Bible, each one originally meant to be sung; and so they were for most of the last 3,000 years, beginning at the Jerusalem Temple. They were adopted as the primary song text of the early church as evidenced by Col. 3:16 and maintained in the Western church throughout medieval times. Psalms were the featured texts of most of the Reformers and were the sole mode of sacred singing among the first American settlers. Of late, hymns and choruses and popular songs with human texts have almost entirely replaced the singing of God’s word in many churches. This scarcity of Psalms in the Church’s song is a great loss which frequently compels me to do what I can to promote their increase.
The brief twelfth Psalm is a lament painting a bleak scenario of engulfing depravity and vanishing righteousness in ancient Israel. It could just as well have been commentary on the decline of morality in contemporary Western society. Further, rather than offering resolution or relief for the psalmist’s desperate plea for help, the Psalm asserts that “the words of the LORD are pure words,” to say in effect that there is no hope except in the Word of God.
TWELVE attempts to capture this chaos and despair of the twelfth Psalm through pointillistic phrasing, dissonant harmonies, cross rhythms, and extended choral and instrumental techniques. The psalm’s slender ray of hope is portrayed in a contrasting section of subdued peacefulness painted with flowing themes in conventional harmonies.
Ponder: to think about carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion.
Anew: In a new or different and typically more positive way.
These two words come from the third stanza of Joachim Neander’s perennially popular hymn, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” And just as this stanza invites us to “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,” this orchestral hymn invites us to consider afresh the attributes and works of Almighty God. Ponder Anew is purely an instrumental work but the text and tune are so familiar that the words will spontaneously spring to mind as the theme unwinds. Thereby, the new harmonies, rhythms, and phrasings in Ponder Anew will likely elicit from the listener a new and different way of thinking about the text. So, as this new setting of the tune melds together peace, majesty, mystery, power, beauty, and grace it stirs the listener to “think carefully, in a new and more positive way, about what the Almighty can do.”
The music in not particularly difficult and should be readily playable by high school or higher level musicians. Yet, both musicians and audience will find the power and intimacy of the work interesting and enjoyable with music that reflects the majesty and mystery of its subject.
Scherzo No. 1 in C-minor is a short, rapid-fire, and light-hearted piano solo for nimble fingers. Despite the minor key-center, the heavy syncopation, headlong tempo (allegro furioso!), and brief foray into F-major, give the scherzo a happy and amusing disposition, which is fitting for scherzo’s original meaning of “musical joke.” The piece is not complex but its pace requires good dexterity to play it well at tempo. Scherzo No. 1 will provide an excellent change of pace/mood for a concert or recital program.
First Impression: On Second Thought is an excursion into the impressionistic world of French composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel with seasonings borrowed from 20th Century pioneers such as Charles Ives and Paul Hindemith. It is set in a rondo structure where the adventurous and tonally unstable ‘A’ sections surround distinct, sweet, and lyrical passages. The work is not particularly difficult but it allows the adventurous pianist to explore unique artistic expressions that are still accessible to the casual listener. Suitable for concert stage or recital hall.
Although the familiar melody is ever-present in this setting of “O, Sacred Head Now Wounded” it will sound very foreign to most ears. In acknowledgment of the atonal origins of the pierrot ensemble, this arrangement embraces dissonance and chromaticism and avoids clear statements of conventional harmony without, however, being altogether atonal. Thus, it is a most unusual setting of the tune, but one that poignantly paints the deep anguish expressed in the hymn text, which is the anguish of the crucifixion’s witnesses. The music is simultaneously shocking and familiar, which seems a fitting way to present this familiar story in all its appalling horror.
The music may be successfully performed with advanced high school or later musicians. It is not excessively demanding technically but will require artistic taste and expressiveness and good counting skills. It is well suited for recital or chamber ensemble concert in either secular or sacred venue.