at a Glance Bernstein composed his symphonic work Jeremiah in 1942. The first performance took place on January 28, 1944, with the composer conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony at the Syria Mosque; Jennie Tourel was the soloist. Only later, in 1949, after Bernstein had written a second “symphony,” named The age of anxiety, did his publisher suggest attaching the name “Symphony No. 1” to Jeremiah, but Bernstein most often thought of it simply as Jeremiah or as his Jeremiah Symphony . This concerto runs about 25 minutes in performance. Bernstein scored it for 2 flutes and piccolo, 2 oboes and english horn, 2 clarinets and bass clarinet, 2 bassoons and contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones and tuba, timpani (at one point in the second movement beaten with maracas), percussion (triangle, bass drum, snare drum, cymbal, and wood block), piano (in the second and third movements), and strings, plus mezzo-soprano soloist. The Cleveland Orchestra first played Jeremiah in January of 2007, under Franz Welser-Möst’s direction.
leads to the destruction of the Temple and ends with Jeremiah’s lament over the ruined city of Jerusalem . In the Symphony, this action is largely expressed in general terms, rather than through a detailed program . as bernstein explained in his own note, “the first movement (Prophecy) aims only to parallel in feeling the intensity of the prophet’s pleas with his people; and the Scherzo (Profanation) to give a general sense of the destruction and chaos brought on by the pagan corruption within the priesthood and the people.” The final Lamentation, however, because of its text, is more specifically “the cry of Jeremiah as he mourns his beloved Jerusalem, ruined, pillaged, and dishonored after his desperate attempts to save it.” In addition to the subject matter, the musical substance of the Symphony also reflects bernstein’s Jewish background, and his regular attendance at synagogue in childhood and youth . The common origins of much of the material, along with some specific cross-references between movements, and the fact that the three movements are played without a break, give the Symphony a feeling of unity as a whole . and, indeed, there is a sense of an overall progression, with the prophecies of the first movement finding fulfillment in the tragedy of the third . The first movement begins with an opening section of unfolding melody, soon punctuated by an ominous figure of a chord sounded in a double attack . a middle section of calm brass chords ensues, leading to a menacing crescendo, followed by a final section that takes us back out of the movement by reversing the opening sequence of chords and melody . The principal theme of the second movement is a sinuous dance, very much in the manner of Copland . a central section introduces a lively variant of the calm brass chords from the first movement, followed by a melody with a touch of bernstein’s broadway open-heartedness . The last movement alternates between the singer’s fervent declamation of grief (sung in hebrew) and orchestral commentary, which sometimes reinforces the tragic climaxes and sometimes offers consolation . The consolation is most strong, perhaps, with a melody made out of falling phrases (a variant of an idea from the first movement) that ends the work . —Anthony Burton © 2019 Anthony Burton is a British free-lance writer and commentator.
About the Music: August 17
Blossom Festival 2019
August 17 – Symphonic Dances August 24 – South Pacific in Concert Labor Day Weekend – The Empire Strikes back