Naomi & Ruth
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Naomi and Ruth (1947) was Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s first nonliturgical biblical choral work, a genre to which he later dedicated himself intensely. It was written for women’s chorus and a soprano soloist who takes the role of Naomi. Ruth’s responses, described by the composer as “characteristically universal,” are left to the chorus. Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s interest in the story went back to his childhood. Naomi happened to be his mother’s name as well, and as he later wrote:
In some way I identified with this biblical character through my mother (and at the same time I identified myself with her)...Some time later I found another “connection”: The other principal female character, the mild and faithful Ruth, resembled my wife, Clara....In a certain sense, it really was my “symbolic autobiography,” existing before I decided to write—to open my heart [to]—these pages.
In 1948 Castelnuovo-Tedesco was visited by his friend, composer Ernst Toch, a refugee from Vienna then living in Los Angeles. Toch gave him the score to his cello concerto (op. 35). Moved by the affection expressed by Toch’s gift, Castelnuovo-Tedesco returned the gesture by presenting Toch with a manuscript copy of this cantata. Almost immediately he regretted what he had done, writing later:
To Ernst, who was such a complex and mature musician, this cantata must seem much too simple and childlike. But with extreme surprise (and immense gratification) I received a letter from Toch...telling me that “this is one of the purest and most touching compositions you have ever written.”
Naomi and Ruth (subtitled A Small Cantata for Women’s Voices from the Book of Ruth) was premiered in Los Angeles in 1949 by the Los Angeles City College Philharmonic Chorus conducted by Hugo Strelitzer, with the composer at the piano. It was orchestrated subsequently.