Ten Biblical Songs (Psalms) by Antonin Dvorak, opus 99, (1894) were performed by Marta Chaloupka, soprano, and Andrew Chislett, piano, at St. Joseph's Church in Seattle, February 22, 2004. The songs were sung in the Czech language.
The recording of the first 2 songs was attacked inadvertantly by an audience member using a cell phone. The repair is not without warts.
The songs are sung in Czech. The english translation is below. The Czech lyrics are in the file "Czech" as a msword document.
The cycle of 10 Biblical Songs was composed in 1894 as Dvorak's Op. 99. The first happy years of his visit to America were followed by a personal crisis, with the death of two dear friends (Tchaikovsky and von Bullow), and with the news of the terminal illness of Dvorak's own father back in the old country. The deeply religious composer sought refuge and comfort in his faith. He selected, with minor but ingenious adaptations, verses from the book of Psalms, and produced some of his most spiritual and most beautiful music. The burst of creative energy is quite remarkable: the whole cycle was composed in just 21 days!
The text which Dvorak used was the old Czech Bible Kralicka dating back to 1579. The beauty of its poetry made it one of the most important and influential early works in the Czech language. Unfortunately, the standard English translation printed in the sheet music had to be heavily modified to be "singable", and therefore does not really reflect the words which inspired Dvorak. For the text in these Notes, I started from the King James Bible, which - although more recent than Bible Kralicka - provides a flavor of the archaic Czech original. Modifications were then made, minor in some Psalms, quite substantial in others, to best approximate the poetic nature of the words being sung in Czech. [Only a few are recognizable as psalms -Editor]
A noteworthy feature of these songs is the apparent simplicity and economy of the musical language, both in the vocal score as well as in the piano accompaniment. At some places it might be called ``minimalistic''. It is a mark of a true genius, to be able to express such a broad range of emotions with a minimum of technical tools. At the same time, the tools are used with astonishing skills. Modulations are frequent and daring (several Songs begin and end in different keys), Song 10 is entirely pentatonic, and the piano part is exquisite - you would not think it was written by a composer trained as a violinist ...
The depth of feeling, together with the mastery of melodic invention, put the Biblical Songs at the very pinnacle of Dvorak's work.
The Songs A
Clouds and Darkness are around Him:
justice and judgment are foundations of His throne. Fire goeth before Him, and sets on fire his enemies around Him. His lightnings flash around the world:
the earth sees it, and trembles.
Mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
the Lord of the whole earth.
and His glory is seen by all the Nations.
Thou art my refuge and my shield: I await Thy word. Depart from me, ye evildoers:
so that I keep the commandments of my God. Give me strength, so that I shall be saved,
and that I observe your law always. My flesh trembleth for fear of Thee;
For I am afraid of Thy judgments, exceedingly.
Hear, O God, hear my prayer,
and hide not Thyself from my plea.
Attend unto me, and hear me, for I mourn in my lament,
and I am dejected.
My heart is sore within me, and the fear of death is fallen upon me,
and horror hath overwhelmed me. And I said: Oh that I had wings like a dove!
For then would I fly away, and find rest. Lo, then would I wander far off, and I would dwell in the wilderness. I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,
He leadeth me beside the still waters. He refreshes my soul, He leadeth me in the paths
of righteousness for his name' sake. Even if I had to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.
God O God! I will sing a new song into Thee, on a cithern,
I will sing psalms unto Thee
Every day will I bless Thee, and I will praise Thy name
for ever and ever.
Great is the LORD, and worthy of all praise
and His greatness is beyond all reckoning. Of Thy glory and beauty and majesty, of Thy wondrous works
I will speak.
And the might of Thy awesome acts all will proclaim.
And so I, too, will speak of Thy greatness.
Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. For Thou hast been my shelter, and a strong tower facing the enemy. I will abide in Thy tabernacle for ever,
I will trust in the covert of Thy wings. O God, thou art my mighty God; I seek Thee at each dawn. My soul thirsteth for Thee, my flesh longeth for Thee
in a dry and thirsty land, where there is no water. Thus will I bless Thee and my mouth shall praise Thee
with joyful lips.
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept,
Upon the willows there we hanged our citherns,
and when those that captured us required of us a song, saying:
Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How could we sing the LORD's song
in a land of strangers?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget her cunning.
Behold me, and have mercy upon me;
for I am desolate and wretched. The troubles of my heart are multiplying:
bring Thou me out of my distresses. Have mercy upon me! Look upon my pain and misery;
and forgive all my sins.
Protect my soul, and deliver me; save me from shame,
for I trust in Thee, for I trust in Thee.
I lift up my eyes unto the hills, looking for help. My help cometh from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let thy foot to stumble,
for He that keepeth thee slumbers not. Indeed, He neither sleeps nor slumbers, He who keepeth Israel.
Sing unto the LORD a new song;
for He hath done marvelous things.
Make a joyful noise, and sing psalms.
Sing, the sea and all that live in it!
Sing, world and all that dwell there! Rivers, clap your hands! Mountains, join in the song! Rejoice, fields and all that grows on them!
Rejoice, the earth! Sing, the sea and all that live in it!
Programs notes and English text 2004 Vladimir Chaloupka