|I. Lento flessible, molto legato||03:06|
|II. Andante, sempre legatissimo e espressivo||02:16|
|III. Larghissimo ma flessibile||02:15|
Four Motets is an a cappella setting of four excerpts from Psalm 86 (seven verses in all), written in 1995 on commission from a consortium consisting of Chanticleer, the Dale Warland Singers, the Phoenix Bach Choir, and La Vie. The verses chosen by the composer all center around a theme of intense personal supplication—for God to listen; for God to answer; for God to guard our souls and thus keep us close to Him; for God to guide and teach us; for God to show us truth; and for God to make us whole. In fact, some of the constituent phrases and sentiments of these verses were paraphrased many centuries later by paytanim (authors of liturgical poetry) in their s’liḥot—poems of the penitential liturgy. Examples are hatte adonai ozn’kha (Incline Your ear, O Lord; v.1); and ki ata adonai tov v’sallaḥ, v’rav ḥesed...(For You, O Lord, are good and ready to pardon, and full of kindness...; v.5). The deeply spiritual character of these devotions guides the continuously unfolding direction of the music.
These settings span a stylistic gulf of 500 years, connecting two disparate but still fully Western music worlds in a synthesis that suggests, as does this Psalm itself, timelessness and universality. Four Motets is transparently cast in the mold of High Renaissance polyphony, with silken textures that drift and weave among various levels of density, well-paced swells that mirror the words, and independent seamless voice leading. These characteristics, together with their soaring spirit, give the motets their quintessentially Renaissance aura, but they are subtly infused with judiciously crafted chromaticism, 20th-century harmonic moments, and even some strident dissonances that somehow do not detract from the overall Renaissance character. To the contrary, they suggest a Renaissance form reclothed in contemporary guise—almost as if the rules of Palestrina or species counterpoint had been revised slightly and pantonally applied.
When the Italian Jewish composer Salomone Rossi (ca. 1570–ca. 1630) published his collection of Hebrew liturgical settings in Venice in 1623 (Hashirim Asher Lishlomo), he provided the first and ultimately the only serious and substantial repertoire of synagogue music based on late Renaissance polyphony (even though his secular music from that time frame had already entered the early Baroque era). After Rossi’s death, that repertoire—which never really caught on in Italian synagogues during his lifetime—was virtually forgotten until its academic discovery in the 19th century. And it was not until well into the 20th century that it received any appreciable performances. Apart from some subsequent rearrangement of a few of those Rossi pieces, no lasting synagogue music was ever again composed in that 16th-century style. Schoenfield’s motets offer one of the first reconsiderations of Renaissance polyphony in connection with sacred Hebrew texts. In the context of their 20th-century harmonic vocabulary, they might be viewed as a kind of logical extension—and contemporary version—of Rossi’s work.
Sung in Hebrew
Translation: JPS Tanakh 1999
I. Lento flessible, molto legato
Incline Your ear, O Lord, answer me, for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am steadfast; O You, my God, deliver Your servant who trusts in You.
II. Adante, sempre legatissimo e espressivo
Bring joy to Your servant’s life, for on You, Lord, I set my hope.
For You, Lord, are good and forgiving (abounding in steadfast love) to all who call on You.
III. Larghissimo ma flessibile
In my time of trouble I call You, for You will answer me.
Teach me Your way, O Lord;
I will walk in Your truth; let my heart be undivided in reverence for Your name.
I will praise You (O Lord, My God,) with all my heart.
Publisher: Migdal Publishing
Coproduction with the BBC