Poets & Psalms

Poets and Psalms Concert 2012
October 28, 2012, 3:30 pm
Old South Church

645 Boylston Street
Boston MA 02116

Map • Phone: 617-267-7442

The season opened with the chorus, accompanied by organ, harp and percussion, singing moving and innovative settings of texts that have particular spiritual resonance. Prominent among those is Leonard Bernstein’s great Chichester Psalms.

Some works on the program:

Benjamin Britten: Rejoice in the Lamb
Charles Ives: Psalm 90
Leonard Bernstein: Chichester Psalms
Daniel Gawthrop: Night, Sleep, Death and the Stars


Jacob Street, organ
Judy Saiki Couture, harp
Craig McNutt, percussion

Charles Ives, Psalm 90

Psalm 90 was composed at least twice. When Ives left college and entered the insurance business, he also held various church jobs, leading in 1900 to the prestigious position of organist at Central Presbyterian Church. While there, he first composed a setting of Psalm 90 for the church choir and organ. However, when Ives left Central Presbyterian in 1902 to focus on composing, he left behind the music he had composed there, and the church staff threw it out.

In 1923, at the end of his composing career, Ives turned again to this text, and set about remembering and re-conceiving his earlier setting. The resulting composition has been called “a summation of Ives’s style, encompassing both the wholesomeness of New England hymnody and the shock of wildly polytonal chords evoking the wrath of God.” According to his wife, Harmony, his setting of Psalm 90 was the only one of his compositions with which Ives was fully satisfied.

The organ begins by introducing the basic concepts of the work, which Ives labeled in the score: The Eternities—Creation—God’s wrath against sin—Prayer and Humility—Rejoicing in Beauty and Work. These chords can be heard later in the chorus. The choir first enters in unison with a hymn-like music; the unison spreads to a mysterious eight-part harmony as the choir sings of the generations of humanity. Throughout the entire work the organ supplies a continual pedal C, giving a sense of the omnipresent divinity against which all things are measured. In the final verses, the hymn style returns, accompanied by bells that give the effect of singing in the choir loft while hearing the bells echoing from other nearby churches.

See also: a biography of Charles Ives.

The Hub Review: “These [pieces] amounted to some very heavy lifting for Chorus Pro Musica, which I suppose is an “amateur” chorus – if by amateur you mean motivated by love, not lucre, as the original Latin tells us.  Their music director, Betsy Burleigh… drew from her assembled forces and soloists clear, vibrant tone and reliably secure intonation, even in the tricky passages… But at what point does “good enough” become “great” despite its shortcomings?  Because Chorus Pro Musica often passed that bar, wherever it is.”

Read about this concert at the Boston Globe website.