The liturgical text hashkivenu is recited at all evening services, with some text variation between the weekday recitation and that on Sabbaths and other holy days. The version here is for Sabbath eve, and Bernstein’s three-part division in the music is dictated by the text’s structure. The words are meditative in the first and third sections, and vociferously dramatic in the middle. The outer parts concern the hoped-for mood of peace upon retiring for the evening—the first in the form of an invocation, the second as a benediction. These have been set with the same simple expressive melody, almost a plainchant in the Phrygian mode, and stated as a twofold canon. Despite the contrapuntal texture, this creates a stasis, resulting in a heterophony that symbolically mirrors the stability of peace. Although the arch (middle) section is rhythmically vigorous, the harmonic content remains relatively static. The tripartite formal division establishes the contrast between outer and inner designs. Within the adagio phrases on either end, supporting pillars to the architectural plan, each of the three sections is further subdivided into three sections, delineated by tempo markings. This setting was commissioned by Cantor David Putterman for the annual service of new music at New York’s Park Avenue Synagogue, where it was premiered in 1945 by Cantor Putterman with the expanded synagogue choir conducted by Max Helfman and Isidor Geller as organist. As part of a letter to his secretary, Helen Coates, dated March 3, 1945, Bernstein wrote a poem entitled: “On Not Having an Idea in My Head for a Setting of Hashkiveinu!”
Oh deign, foolish Muse
To sit upon my shoulder,
I’ve got to sing a Blues
Ere I am one week older.
The trouble of the Jews
In my dear guts does smolder
But sparkless is the fuse:
My writing arm grows colder.
I ask not, stupid Muse,
For a Tristan and Isolde,
Just a small Berceuse—
But ere I’m one week older!!!
Evidently the composer was answered by his Muse, since the work was premiered ten weeks later.
Sung in Hebrew
Cause us, O Lord, our God, to retire for the evening in peace and then again to arise unto life, O our King, and spread Your canopy of peace over us. Direct us with Your counsel and save us for the sake of Your name. Be a shield around us.
Remove from our midst all enemies, plague, sword, violence, famine, hunger, and sorrow And also remove evil temptation from all around us, sheltering us in the shadow of your protecting wings.
For indeed You are our guardian and deliverer; You are indeed a gracious and compassionate king. Guard our going and coming, for life and in peace, from now on and always. Spread over us the sheltering canopy of Your peace. Praised be You, O Lord, who spreads the canopy of peace over us and over all Your people Israel, and over all Jerusalem. Amen.
Publisher: Universal Polygram International Publishing
Co-production with the BBC
Translation from the Hebrew by Rabbi Morton M. Leifman