|Barukh habba and Mi addir||01:12|
|I Will Betroth You (V'erastikh li)||01:21|
Finkelstein’s Wedding Service follows in part the traditional order of the marriage liturgy, beginning with its choral setting of the optional introductory Psalm verse (118:26) barukh habba (Blessed is he who comes [in God’s/adonai’s name]), succeeded by the brief invocation stemming from a medieval marriage hymn, mi addir al hakol (He who is mighty above all beings). The two are linked to form a single piece, bypassing the two other Psalm verses (95:6 and 100:2) that usually are part of barukh habba renditions. There follows his setting for solo cantor and organ of the centerpiece prayer text of the marriage service proper: the seven wedding b’rakhot (see sheva b’rakhot;). This is no cantorial showpiece or extended choral performance opportunity of the type once common at elaborate Ashkenazi wedding ceremonies: opulent published settings by Salomon Sulzer or Louis Lewandowski, for example, once standard fare for choral ceremonies in Western and central Europe; or those by less sophisticated and less classically oriented composers such as Meyer Machtenberg, once heard frequently at eastern European–based ceremonies in America.
This is a straightforward, dignified, and gracious interpretation—at once dramatic and lyrical. It is restrained, with little text repetition, but no less resonant of the joy of the occasion than many of its counterparts in earlier generations. At the words same’aḥ t’samaḥ (Cause [them—bride and bridegroom] to rejoice), the mood of rejoicing takes on a harmonious mysterious character rather than indulging in a more conventionally spirited tune, as do so many other settings. At the words kol sason v’kol simḥa (the voice of gladness and the voice of joy), however, the composer offers an echo of a more traditional approach through his use of a lively march rhythm (and text repetition to fill it out), organically woven into the whole—leading into the final b’rakha.
Finkelstein’s Wedding Service includes other texts that are not traditionally part of the marriage ceremony but are nonetheless permissible as ancillary expressions.
The choral setting of Psalm 150—more commonly associated with its occurrence in the shofarot verses of the t’ki’atot liturgy of the Rosh Hashana musaf services (for which this setting could be sung as well)—is also infused with the rhythmic character of a march, with its air of ecstatic, ultimate quasi-redemptive triumph set against a borrowed vamp cliché in the organ accompaniment. That sentiment might suit the messianic purpose of the Psalm’s appearance in the Rosh Hashana shofarot liturgy, with its focus on faith in the ultimate redemption of return to the Holy Land, but it is unclear how such an assertion of triumph fits into the marriage service, unless it was intended to relate to the messianic references to Zion contained in the sheva b’rakhot—“May she [Zion] who has been barren exult and celebrate as she witnesses her children gathered into her midst”—in the sixth b’rakha, and, in the seventh, “May there be heard in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem voices of joy and gladness.”
The “big screen” ambience, as well as obvious influence, of this piece is transparent in its ebullient, almost euphoric expanse, buttressed by shimmering contemporary harmonies found frequently in grand-scale film scores, and, more directly, in its homage to the celebrated film composer John Williams. The principal interdependent combination of melodic-rhythmic substance—at first reliant on the interval of a perfect fifth and then leading to the emblematic leap of a major seventh—appears to have been drawn directly from the theme of Williams’s score for the 1978 blockbuster film Superman.
There are also two lovely para-liturgical settings in this wedding service, intended as alternatives to the hackneyed songs sometimes sung under the ḥuppa—usually in the form of a “song to the bride,” in imitation of the once ubiquitous American custom of singing “O Promise Me” (or other songs of that ilk) at non-Jewish weddings. Finkelstein has set verses 2–11 of Psalm 84, beginning with the words ma y’didot mishk’notekha (How lovely are Your tabernacles [Lord of hosts]), in an adaptation of the song “What a Feeling,” by Giorgio Moroder, Keith Forsey, and Irene Cara, which was sung by Irene Cara as a theme song in the sound track for the 1983 film Flashdance, starring Jennifer Beals. The “backup” choral parameter also recalls an emblematic idiom of well-written film as well as other popular music. Finkelstein, however, has added a lighthearted dance tune as a punctuating middle section.
Psalm 84 is one of the Korahite Psalms, following the conclusion in the Psalter of the Asaph Psalms (see The Book of Psalms and its Musical Interpretations). It speaks of intense love for communion with God and the joy experienced by a pilgrim to Jerusalem who, formerly prevented from worshipping and thereby communicating with God in the venue of the holy sanctuary (or tabernacle)—after yearning intensely, physically and emotionally, for that sacred “house of God”—is now able to do so. Other composers have set these Psalm verses for the same function as a song at Jewish marriage ceremonies, so there appears to be a tradition of interpreting liberally the words and sentiments—at least for this life-cycle occasion—as metaphors for human romantic love and its associations of yearning, longing, and joyous fulfillment through the Judaicially holy institution of marriage.
In sharp contrast, Finkelstein’s I will Betroth You—to a text that incorporates the Hebrew v’erastikh li (Hosea 2:21–22) is a simple, subdued chant, almost reminiscent of psalmody.
Sung in Hebrew and English
Blessed who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
He who is mighty above all, praised above all, and great beyond all else and all others, may He Bless the bridegroom and the bride.
My soul is longing and yearning for the courts of the Lord:
My heart and my flesh sing out for joy,
Sing out to God, the living God.
The sparrow has found a home,
And the swallow a nest for herself
Where she may lay her young by Your altars,
You are Lord of Hosts,
My King and my God.
They are happy who dwell in Your house;
Forever singing Your praise.
They are happy whose strength is in You,
In whose hearts are the roads to Zion.
As they go through the bitter valley,
They make it a place of springs;
The autumn rain covers it with blessings.
They walk with ever growing strength,
They will see the God of gods, in Zion.
They walk with ever growing strength!
Lord God of Hosts,
Hear my prayer;
Give ear, O God of Jacob.
Turn Your eyes, O God, our shield;
Look upon the face of Your anointed.
One day within Your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.
I had rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God
Than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
He gives us His favor,
He gives us His glory.
No good thing will He withhold from them that walk,
That walk uprightly.
I will betroth you forever
I will betroth you in happiness and truth and in faithfulness
And we shall know the Lord
Praised be You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has created all things
according to and for His glory.
Praised be You, Lord , our God, King of the universe, the Creator of ankind.
Praised be You, Lord , our God, King of the universe, who made mankind in His image, after His own likeness, and has prepared for mankind a perpetual fabric so as to be forever formed out of itself in that very likeness. Praised Be You, Lord, Creator of mankind.
Praised be You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has created joy and gladness, bridegroom and bride, mirth and rejoicing, pleasure and of light, love, brotherhood, peace, and fellowship. Praised be You, Lord , who causes the bridegroom to rejoice with his bride
Praise God in His holy sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty heavens.
Praise Him for His magnificent deeds; praise Him for His abundant greatness.
Praise Him with shofar blasts; praise Him with nevel and kinor.
Praise Him with tof and dance; praise Him with minim and ugav.
Praise Him with resounding tziltz’ile; praise Him with ringing tziltz’ile.
Let every soul praise the Lord. Hallelujah!
Performers: BBC Singers; Meir Finkelstein, Cantor; Avner Itai, Conductor; Hugh Potton, Organ
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