Understanding musical scores
Jeremiah was a major Hebrew prophet of great suffering who warned the Israelites that their sinfulness would lead to disaster, and his prophecy was fulfilled when Solomon's Temple was destroyed and Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in BCE. Jeremiah's Lamentations express his deep sorrow over the resulting desolation, as well as hope for the people of God. Bernstein decided to enter his Jeremiah Symphony into a competition organized by the New England Conservatory, for which his Tanglewood conducting mentor Serge Koussevitsky was serving as chairman of the jury.
He made significant changes to his song sketch, shifting the vocal part to mezzo-soprano, and in a frantic burst of activity, he worked around the clock to complete the entire symphony before the December 31, , deadline.
Bernstein enlisted his sister Shirley and friends David Diamond and David Oppenheim to help with copying and proofreading, and his roommate Edys Merrill hand-delivered the score to Koussevitsky's Boston home on New Year's Eve. He did not win the competition, but his Jeremiah Symphony would nonetheless bring him great success. Bernstein decided to send the score to Koussevitsky and to his Curtis Institute conducting teacher, Fritz Reiner, for their feedback. Reiner loved it and immediately invited Bernstein to conduct it with the Pittsburgh Symphony in the fall of ; however, he tried to persuade his former student to add a fourth, more uplifting movement.
Bernstein wrote in a letter to his friend and mentor Aaron Copland, "He is most anxious for the fourth movement; insists it's all too sad and defeatist. Same criticism my father had; which raises Pop in my estimation [to] no end. I really haven't the time or energy for a fourth movement. I seem to have had my little say as far as that piece is concerned. Despite Koussevitsky's initial lukewarm response to Jeremiah , he invited Bernstein to premiere it in Boston as soon as he caught word of Reiner's enthusiasm.
Mahler - Third Movement Opening (Frere Jacques) from Symphony No.1 sheet music for Flute Quartet
Reiner had already made arrangements to have the work performed, however, and Jeremiah had its premiere on January 28, at the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with Bernstein himself conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and mezzo-soprano Jennie Tourel as the soloist. The performance was a complete success. Three weeks later, Bernstein conducted it with the Boston Symphony, and again, it was a triumph.
Jeremiah was broadcast on seventy radio stations across the country, and over the next few years Bernstein conducted it in Chicago, New York, St. Louis, Detroit, Rochester, Prague and Jerusalem. The remarkable success of Jeremiah came just a few months after Bernstein's legendary conducting debut with the New York Philharmonic as a substitute for Bruno Walter on November 14, When Bernstein's father Sam, who had not been supportive of his musical ambitions, saw the overwhelming response of the audience that afternoon at Carnegie Hall, he came backstage, overcome with emotion, and there was a great reconciliation between father and son.
With Jeremiah , Bernstein not only established himself as a major American symphonist, he began a musical and dramatic exploration of a theme that would continue to inspire many of his major works throughout his career. The minute Jeremiah Symphony consists of three movements: I.
Prophecy; II. Profanation; and III. The first two movements are instrumental and the third features a mezzo-soprano soloist, singing a Hebrew text from the anguished poems of Jeremiah's Book of Lamentations.
About the Work
While not as explicitly theatrical as his later symphonies, The Age of Anxiety and Kaddish , Jeremiah is clearly motivated by a strong dramatic impulse. As Bernstein described it in his program notes for the March New York Philharmonic performances:. Thus the first movement 'Prophecy' aims only to parallel in feeling the intensity of the prophet's pleas with his people; and the Scherzo 'Profanation' to give a general sense of the destruction and chaos brought on by the pagan corruption within the priesthood and the people.
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