(1918 - 1990)
Leonard Bernstein burst upon the musical scene with meteoric brilliance. Charismatic conductor,
wide-ranging composer, inspiring teacher, Bernstein has for almost four
decades held center stage on the contemporary musical scene. Through
it all, his Jewish artistic identity has always been visible. His oratoria Kaddish, sung in Hebrew, was first heard in Tel
Aviv; his Chichester Psalms are sung in the language of
their ancient authors.
us, O Lord, to lie down inpeace," was commissioned by the Park Avenue
Synagogue from the twenty - seven-year- old composer, for use at its
Sabbath eve service, April 4, 1945.
Leonard Bernstein, Hashkivenu, April 4, 1945. Music Division.
The Bernstein Collection is one of the treasures of
the Music Division. From it we have chosen two of his earliest works,
both in the composer's own hand. The first, a liturgical work, commissioned
by the Park Avenue Synagogue, Hashkivenu, for the Sabbath eve
Cause us, O Lord, to lie down in peace,
And raise us up, 0 our King, unto life.
Spread over us the tabernacle of Thy peace,
And through Thy good counsel direct us.
The second, his first symphonic work, the Jeremiah
Symphony (1944), opens with the movement, "Prophecy," which sounds
the notes of the traditional cantillation with which the prophetic portion
of the week is chanted in the synagogue at the Sabbath morning service.
Its third movement, "Lamentation," calls for a soprano who sings, in
the traditional melody, a portion of the biblical book of Lamentations, whose description of the destruction of Jerusalem and the suffering of its inhabitants is attributed to the Prophet Jeremiah.
Leonard Bernstein's first
symphonic work, the Jeremiah Symphony, written at age twenty-six,
uses the traditional cantillations in which the prophetic portion
of the week is chanted on the Sabbath in the synagogue. The soprano
solo in the third movement , "Lamentation," is in the traditional
melody used to chant the Book of Lamentations on the eve of Tisha
B'Av, the fast commemorating the destruction of the Temple. According
to an old tradition, the prophet Jeremiah was the author of Lamentations.
Leonard Bernstein, Jeremiah Symphony, , 1944. Music Division.
On the occasion of Bernstein's seventieth birthday,
a critic wrote in the New York Times, "it does seem reasonable
that a former wonder boy should write incidental music for J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan, though not inevitable that the same artist should
be attracted to the Lamentations of Jeremiah as the basis for his Symphony
No. 1. Not inevitable but certainly understandable, when we consider
that whatever musical tradition the young Bernstein was entering, he
was already in the spiritual tradition of Bloch, Milhaud, Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Schoenberg.
Sources: Abraham J. Karp, From
the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress,
(DC: Library of Congress, 1991).