Listening Notes:

If one were to do a survey of classical music to see if there was one universal theme that had inspired composers over the centuries, I have no doubt it would be the subject of love. I had recently composed some choral and solo voice settings of the Psalms, so it occurred to me to follow up with another biblical theme, as I was in that frame of mind.

The Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon is misleadingly named, because Solomon didn't write it. Historical research has shown that the text is really a conflation of several love poems of Syrian, Persian and Greek origin. There is no real story, but there are scenes that imply action. The alternate title Song of Songs suggests that it was considered the most beautiful of the many love lyrics that were composed in the time following his reign. The title pays homage to Solomon, who was considered the greatest author of love songs.

Over the centuries there have been attempts to interpret the poem as an allegory of spiritual love, since there is no mention of God, Israel or any other directly religious idea. As the poem is a part of the canon of the Old Testament, religious interpretations have made it into something far removed form its exotic and sultry language. My intention was to freely interpret it musically, without any religious connection, because I found it inspiring as literature.

My Symphony No. 3 (Song of Solomon) is rapturous and sensual in feeling, conjuring up images of tender emotions combined with sensitivity to the beauty of nature. When I was composing, I thought of the words "loveliness," "delight," and "mystery." These were the images I had in mind for the first and third movements of the symphony; the solo violin and harp are prominently featured.

The last movement, heard as a soundclip, In Praise of Beauty sums up the rapturous nature of the text in a languorous dialog between harp and strings, progressing to a rhapsodic song first played by the horn, then solo violin, and finally full orchestra.

Song of Solomon text excerpt (soundclip on the website)
Movement III - In Praise of Beauty
Who is she that shines through like the dawn,
Beautiful as the moon,
Radiant as the sun...?
Vast floods cannot quench love,
Nor rivers drown it.
If a man offered all his wealth for love,
He would be laughed to scorn.

 

O you who linger in the garden,
A lover is listening;
Let me hear your voice.
"Hurry my beloved,
Swift as a gazelle or a young stag,
To the hills of spices!"
Texts of the Song of Solomon appropriated from the "King James" Bible, and from the "Song of Songs" from the Tanakh - The Jewish Publication Society Bible. Used by permission.

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