Prologue: Prais'd Be 01:01
I. Master of the Universe 02:12
II. Thy Covenant 02:30
III. Day of Wrath 02:30
Epilogue: Life and Joy 00:34

Liner Notes

The title of Ralph Shapey’s Psalm II provides an illustration of the legitimate generic use of the term psalm outside the biblical context, as derived from the Latin psalmus, to mean, more broadly, a poetic text sung to instrumental accompaniment. Thus the piece (confusing as its title might be) is not a setting of the second Psalm of the biblical Book of Psalms, and the designation “II” appears because the work is an expansion of an earlier one—now known as Psalm I—with which it shares words and text sources. That earlier piece was written in 1984 for soprano, oboe, and piano. Later the same year, Shapey created the present work by adding choir and four strings (violin, viola, cello, and double bass).

The text comprises interwoven quotations from an unrelated variety of sources: writings of Walt Whitman, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Thomas of Celano (c. 1190–c. 1260), Henry Arthur Jones (1851–1929), and Henry Herman (1832–1894); and a well-known monologue of the 19th-century Hassidic master and leader, the Rebbe of Kotzk (1787–1859). Taken together, they express a manifestly Hassidic tripartite sentiment: dual faith in God and in His creature, man (or Whitman’s “the universe” as the divine creation); rebuke of God for failure to fulfill His promise of redemption, including the threat of rebellion and dissolution of the partnership implied by the covenants; and hope for ultimate resolution. The final plea in the epilogue (“O God, put back Thy universe, the universe for life and joy!”) is not derived from any Hassidic sources, but rather from a 19th-century English melodrama, The Silver King, by Jones and Herman. Nonetheless, this plea reflects—especially in Shapey’s juxtaposition of those words against the other quotations—a profound mystical Hassidic doctrine known as tikkun olam: repair of a spiritually broken world.

By: Neil W. Levin



Sung in English
Source: the composer's documents


Praised be the fathomless universe. —Whitman


Master of the Universe, send us our Messiah for we have no more strength to suffer.
Show me a sign, O God, otherwise—otherwise—I rebel against Thee.


If Thou dost not keep Thy covenant, then neither will I keep that promise. —Rebbe of Kotzk

Thou gave man speech and speech created thought, which is the measure of the universe. —Shelley


That day, the day of wrath, will turn the universe to ashes. —Thomas of Celano

We are through being Thy chosen people, Thy peculiar treasure. —Rebbe of Kotzk


O God! Put back Thy universe, Thy universe for life and joy! —Henry Arthur Jones and Henry Herman

*The self-contained Psalm texts, which are not given here, may be found in any standard Bible.



Composer: Ralph Shapey

Length: 09:08
Genre: Choral

Performers: BBC SingersAvner Itai, Conductor;  Sarah Leonard, Soprano

Date Recorded: 11/01/1999
Venue: St. Paul's Church (G), Knightsbridge , London, UK
Engineer: Hughes, Campbell
Assistant Engineer: Simon Weir, BBC
Project Manager: Schwendener, Paul

Additional Credits:

Publisher: Theodore Presser Co.


Don't miss our latest releases, podcasts, announcements and giveaways throughout the year! Stay up to date with our newsletter.

{{msToTime(currentPosition)}} / {{msToTime(duration)}}