Jacob Druckman’s setting of Psalm 93 is excerpted here from the kabbalat shabbat (welcoming the Sabbath) section of his full Sabbath Eve Service, Shir shel yakov (excerpts of which appear in Volume 7), which was commissioned in 1967 by Cantor David Putterman for the twenty-third annual service of new liturgical music at the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York. Although kabbalat shabbat is actually an independent and self-contained service that begins just prior to sundown, preceding the Sabbath eve service itself, most formal settings of the Friday evening liturgy as artistically unified conceptions treat the kabbalat shabbat texts (Psalms and Psalm verses, plus a much later kabbalistic poem, l’kha dodi) simply as the opening part of a single Sabbath service. Although Druckman’s music of the late 1960s is generally marked by more advanced and experimental sonorities and more progressive compositional techniques, he reverted here—as many composers have done when addressing the liturgy for functional rendition—to a more conservative approach, to which a moderately sophisticated but nonetheless lay congregation could relate.
The employment of Psalm 93 in connection with the anticipation of the Sabbath, and as a prelude to it, may have roots in antiquity that predate the development and canonization of the established Sabbath liturgy. Rabbinical literature contains references that have been cited to suggest that the Psalm was sung every Friday in the Temple in ancient Jerusalem by the Levitical choir. (The Septuagint gives further such evidence in the form of an added superscription that refers to “the day before the Sabbath.”) And a talmudic reference (R.H. 31a) appears to place the Friday recitation of Psalm 93 within the context of divine cosmological parameters as set forth in Genesis, wherein God’s Creation—the creation of the universe—becomes complete with the creation and emergence of mankind on the sixth day, followed by the divinely ordained Sabbath as, among other things, a sign of completion. Thus, in Judaic theological tradition, God’s ultimate sovereignty over mankind—and therefore over the course of human history and events—is firmly and eternally established by the sixth day. That supreme mastery is now added to, and fused with, God’s already demonstrated sovereignty over the cosmos—over both time and nature: “The world is firmly, immutably, and long-since [‘of old’] established” (v.1); “You have existed [as sovereign] from eternity—from time immemorial” (v.2).
The opening words of this Psalm constitute a resounding affirmation of divine sovereignty, illustrated poetically in terms of earthly trappings of royalty. At first glance this might seem historically obvious, even tautological, since the concept of divine sovereignty is accepted as one of the foundation stones of Judaic theology. But the actual image of God as King, and its subsequently inspired analogies to humanly conceived regalia—as depicted here (and in the other so-called Enthronement Psalms) through literary evocations of royal robes, the impregnability of fortified girding, and the monarchial throne—may be of more recent vintage in Jewish antiquity than the basic monotheistic principle itself.
The fifth and final verse of Psalm 93, which assures that God’s testimonies—His law and teachings—are both true and perfect (viz., sacred) beyond all limitations of time, is interpreted as a deduced consequence of His supremacy as the eternal King. Since His omnipotence and infinite reign are acknowledged as unquestionable certainty, and since it may be assumed that this acknowledgment implies the resulting benefit to the world, His being and aura may be characterized as the essence of holiness: “Holiness is appropriate to your abode...” Thus the opening and closing verses are linked by virtue of their revelation concerning the divine nature: God’s ever-enduring and exclusive cosmic supremacy, and the sanctity and perfection of His rule that follows from that truth.
The transparent energy of Druckman’s interpretation, which amplifies the Psalm’s focus on God’s strength as the supreme power, is established by a memorable rhythmic motive that persists throughout the piece. The setting also mirrors the responsorial parallel structure of the text.
Publisher: Boosey & Hawkes, Inc.
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