|I. Allegro misterioso||07:48|
|II. Softly, as in prayer||05:53|
|III. Fast and very precise||08:54|
Shirat Sara (Song of Sarah) was written as a symphony for strings, with the concertmaster or concertmistress as the soloist. Silver conceived this tone poem while living for a brief time in Jerusalem’s Old City during the summer of 1984, and she completed it after her return to the United States. It addresses the biblical heroine Sarah, the first matriarch, who was the wife of Abraham, the first patriarch—known as the father of the Jewish people. The work’s program concerns the story, told in Genesis, of Sarah’s sorrow at her inability to conceive, her entreaties to God for a child, and the joy she experiences at finally being granted that wish with the conception and birth of her son, Isaac, in her old age. Each of the three movements depicts one of those stages of the story.
The first movement was composed in Israel, inspired by the sounds the composer heard one evening as she passed by an open window of a yeshiva (talmudic academy). A group of men were singing a farewell to the Sabbath, and the melody was long and cyclical, seemingly without phrase beginnings, endings, or tonal center. The mysterious, lingering tune evoked a mourning, or reluctance to see the Sabbath pass, which had a profound effect on the composer as she began writing the work.
Threads of a quasi-Hassidic tune appear throughout the piece, and the second movement is based on a contemporary neo-Hassidic tune that Silver learned in New York. But its harmonic treatment encompasses both tonal and nontonal aspects—sometimes in juxtaposition, sometimes in a tension between the two. That duality applies to many of Silver’s other works as well.
In her approach to this work, Silver was intrigued by Sarah’s role in Jewish as well as Western history and culture. “In the Judeo-Christian heritage of the Western world,” she has reflected, “the figure of Sarah holds a special place. She was the first woman to maintain unfaltering faith in the one, eternal God.” The work was premiered in 1986 by the Hartford Symphony under the direction of Tibor Pusztai.
Performers: Gerard Schwarz, Conductor; Seattle Symphony
Publisher: MMB Music, Inc
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