Dessau’s English setting for three-part treble voices of four verses from the biblical book Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs) belongs to his New York period. Published in 1942, this is a harmonically as well as contrapuntally sophisticated work, with intricate, independent vocal lines and closely spaced dissonances. Although the accompaniment merely doubles the voices and may therefore appear to be either optional or intended for rehearsal purposes only, it is not. Apart from the extraordinary difficulty of rendering the piece a cappella (it is difficult enough with accompaniment), Dessau clearly envisioned the blend of human vocal and woodwind timbres, which creates an almost mysterious aura. He specified that the piano part in the published score “can be played also with two flutes and one clarinet, or one flute and two clarinets.”
Sung in English
I. Song of Solomon 5:8
I charge you O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved that ye tell him that I am sick of love.
II. Song of Solomon 5:2
I sleep but my heart waketh.
It is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, open to me, open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled.
For my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night.
III. Song of Solomon 7:11
Come my beloved, let us go forth into the field.
Let us lodge in the villages.
Come my beloved, let us go up early to the vineyards, let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear and the pomegranates bud forth.
There will I give thee my loves.
IV. Song of Solomon 8:4
I charge you O daughters of Jerusalem that ye stir not up nor awake my love until he please.
Text: The Bible, Kings James Version