|Barukh & sh'ma yisrael||03:22|
Marc Lavry’s Sabbath Eve Sacred Service was commissioned in 1958 by Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, that city’s most prestigious Reform synagogue, which had already established its credentials in new liturgical music with its commissions for full-length Sabbath services by Ernest Bloch and Darius Milhaud.
The work as a whole reflects the composer’s understanding of both the “new Mediterranean style” and its points of departure from the eastern European traditions—a distinction Lavry uses as a compositional device. His approach throughout the service uses the Israeli-Mediterranean melos most perceptibly, but it is clearly cast into the musical idioms, form, and performance norms of the traditional Askenazi synagogue—of which he was obviously aware. Moreover, some of the compositional techniques of that style are more often used in order to give a musical feeling or reminder of the late Romantic era as well.
The orchestral prelude reflects a purely late-Romantic character, with a few subtle references to biblical cantillation (Ashkenazi motifs for intoning the prophetic readings, or haftara). In the lyrical setting of mizmor shir (tov l’hodot; Psalm 92) one finds the expression of the Mediterranean style in the modal treatment of the harmonic material—the parallel triads and the open fifths both in the chorus and in the accompaniment. These chords and open fifths are combined to create a late-Romantic texture. In the opening words sung by the sopranos (tov l’hodot ladonai) one can detect a trace of a traditional Ashkenazi motif for this section of the kabbalat shabbat (welcoming the Sabbath) service.
In the animated setting of l’kha dodi, the melodic material, presented as a dialogue between a two-part women’s chorus and the men in unison, is a modal line reminiscent of many Israeli tunes composed in a “folk style” during the Second and Third Aliya periods, the y’shuv era, and even into the 1950s. Parallel triads are also evident in the setting of bar’khu, the beginning of the core of the evening liturgy (avrit), where a clear announcement-type statement—the prayer leader or cantor’s invitation to commence the prayers—is standard. Here, too, the parallel triads combine to create a harmonic texture that is at once late Romantic and modal. Appropriately, they form a fanfare. In this passage and in the succeeding declaration of God’s unity in the pronouncement sh’ma yisra’el, Lavry maintains the traditional format of cantor and choral-congregational response, including its declamatory nature—albeit subdued in this interpretation.
Similar references to Ashkenazi liturgical tradition are evident in the setting of v’ahavta. As a biblical quotation, this passage is frequently sung in American synagogues to the chant of the biblical cantillation for the Torah—although this is not a biblical reading per se, but part of k’ri’at sh’ma (a declaration of God’s unity), which is part of all morning and evening prayers. This is a fairly recent musical practice. Although the orchestral opening approximates actual cantillations, Lavry does not quote literally. Nonetheless, the musical gestures throughout the section, structured as an interesting duet between cantor and bass, symbolically emulate the style if not the precise content of biblical cantillation.
Modal harmony, parallel chordal motion, and folklike elements are all present in the festive yet lyric mi khamokha and in the contemplative v’sham’ru settings. Just as references are made to biblical cantillation motives in the orchestral opening of v’ahavta, in the opening measures of mi khamokha the orchestra recalls the reference to a traditional motif in the soprano line of mizmor shir—which functions as a unifying device. The boisterous choral setting of yism’ḥu, evoking the spirit of Sabbath joy contained in the text, is yet another synthesis of late-Romantic style with the rhythmic character and general mood that call to mind the Israeli folk dances of that era.
Sung in Hebrew
MIZMOR SHIR (TOV L'HODOT) PSALM 92
A psalm, a song for the Sabbath day.
How good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to Your Name, Most High.
To tell of Your kindness in the morning, to tell of Your faithfulness each night.
With a ten-stringed instrument and a nevel, sacred thoughts sounded on a kinor.
For You, Lord, have brought me great gladness with Your creations.
I revel in Your handiwork.
How great are Your works, Lord!
How very profound Your thoughts.
Come, beloved, and with me turn and face the approaching bride.
Welcome O bride, welcome O Sabbath.
Quickly then, come out to greet her,
for is the Sabbath not the source of all blessings?
For already at creation’s primeval beginning,
God had established the Sabbath.
Scripture teaches that on the seventh day of earth’s existence—
at the end of the beginning of creation—
God molded the Sabbath into being and blessed her.
But it was on the very first day of God’s work—
at the beginning of the beginning of creation,
that God’s plans for the Sabbath were already set and sealed.
Your light has come.
Arise and shine,
Speak a song! Sing a poem!
The glory of the Lord is revealed to you.
Sabbath, you who are your Master’s crown,
come in peace, in joy, in gladness
Into the midst of the faithful
of a remarkably special people.
O bride come!
Greet the Lord, to whom all praise is due.
Be greeted, O Lord, be worshipped for all eternity.
Listen, Israel! The Lord is our God.
The Lord is the only God—His unity is His essence.
Praised and honored be the name of His Kingdom forever and ever.
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might. Take to heart these words with which I command and charge you this day. Teach them to your children. Recite them at home and when away, when you lie down [to sleep at night] and when you arise. Bind them as a sign on your hand and to serve as a symbol between your eyes [on your forehead]; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Do all My commandments that you may remember and be holy unto your God.
I am the Lord your God.
Who is comparable among the mighty to You, O Lord? Who can equal the magnificence of Your holiness? Even to praise You inspires awe, You who perform wondrous deeds. Your children witnessed Your majesty. “This is my God,” they sang, and repeated, “The Lord shall reign for all eternity.” And it has been said in Scripture: “For the Lord has rescued Jacob and liberated him from a most powerful foe.” You are worshipped, O Lord, You who redeemed Israel. Amen.
The children of Israel shall keep and guard the Sabbath and observe it throughout their generations as an eternal covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever.
May they who observe the Sabbath and experience its delight rejoice in Your sovereignty. The people that hallows the seventh day will benefit from Your bounty and abundance. For You took pleasure in the seventh day and made it a holy day, calling it the most desirable day—a remembrance of creation.
Publisher: Sacred Music Press
Translation from the Hebrew by Rabbi Morton M. Leifman