The December issue of Choral Journal is now available online! The cover article for this issue was written by Michael Slon and titled “Three Windows into Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms.” Below is an excerpt of the article, and you can read it in its entirety in the December 2018 issue! Go to acda.org/choraljournal and click “Search Archives.”
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In mid-1964, Leonard Bernstein began an unusual year-long sabbatical from his directorship of the New York Philharmonic. The main project on tap: write a musical on Thornton Wilder’s apocalyptic play The Skin of Our Teeth, with the collaborators of his youth—Adolph Green and Betty Comden (with whom he’d written On the Town and Wonderful Town).
Alas, by early 1965 the friends had gone their separate ways, and Bernstein reported to colleague David Diamond that he was “a composer without a project.”1 But the year was not entirely lost. In April and May he completed work on Chichester Psalms, commissioned by Rev. Walter Hussey and the Chichester Cathedral in Sussex, England, for their 1965 music festival with the cathedrals of Salisbury and Winchester.2 The piece has been a staple in the choral repertory ever since, and its unusual genesis from musical theatre roots is likely one of the principal reasons.
At the same time, Chichester Psalms participates in Bernstein’s broader project—spanning decades—of exploring and responding to what he called a “crisis of faith” (a crisis running parallel to his compositional struggle with the state of tonality), and it is helpful for performers and listeners to have some sense of this. The work stands chronologically between two larger compositional projects, the 1963 Symphony No. 3 (Kaddish) and Mass (which opened the Kennedy Center in 1971), in which he repeatedly addresses and attempts to resolve these perceived crises. And while each of these works responds and proceeds in different ways, Chichester offers both a détente in these crises and a particularly hopeful view in its resolution.
In this centennial Bernstein year, the following essay offers three windows into the work: a look at its unusual musical sources, a brief consideration of its crisis of faith context, and an interpretive view of its closing chorale.
Read the rest of this article in the December 2018 issue of Choral Journal!The Choral Journal is a benefit to members of ACDA. You can join ACDA today and start receiving Choral Journal in your email and mailbox! Visit acda.org/membership or click here!