While this early Bernstein composition gives no indication of his eventual compositional style, it does reveal the musical environment to which he was exposed as a youngster at his family’s congregation—specifically the music of Solomon Braslavsky. In 1962 Bernstein subsidized the publication of Braslavsky’s setting of one of the central prayers of the High Holy Day liturgy, Un’tane tokef, in appreciation of the man who had meant so much to him in his youth. We hear some of that Braslavsky influence in this Psalm setting, which in turn refers to Weber, Mendelssohn, and other Romantic composers. The work begins with grave chords, à la Handel, but with Wagnerian harmonies. There is even a hint of Mahler in the Allegro agitato section. The manuscript is dated September 5, 1935. Bernstein rediscovered the piece in the mid-1980s, and even though he recognized its Victorian excesses as well as its schoolboyish weaknesses, he expressed an affection for its innocent sweetness.
Sung in English
Text: adapted by the composer
Praise ye the Lord, Praise Him all the earth,
Praise ye the Lord, monsters of the sea;
Praise Him, ye vagrant flocks of the lea!
Praise the Lord, Praise Him whatever ye may be!
Bless Him all ye stars of light,
Praise Him, mountains, day and night;
Stormy winds rebelling
Seas and oceans swelling
Skies His grandeur telling,
Beast of the field, rover of the lea!
Fowl of the air, monster of the sea,
Every shrub and tree!
Youth and maiden, sage and child,
Praise with harp and timbrel wild.
Sing His praises near and far,
Sing sun and moon, Sing oh morning star,
Princes and judges, assemble, assemble,
And praise ye the Lord.
Praise! For His is the glory, Halleluya!
Publisher: Universal Polygram International Publishing
Words adapted by the composer
Premiere recording; not previously performed in public