Victoria Borisova-Ollas: Psalm 42

Victoria Borisova-Ollas Psalm 42
Psalm 42

Victoria Borisova-Ollas: Psalm 42

Year of composition:
2008
Scored for:
for orchestra, mixed choir and soloists
Composer:
Victoria Borisova-Ollas
Roles:
Narrator
Choir:
SATB
Soloists:
soprano; bass
Instrumentation:
2 2 2 2 - 4 2 3 0 - perc, hp, cel, org, str
Instrumentation details:
1st flute
2nd flute (+picc)
1st oboe
2nd oboe (+c.a)
1st clarinet in Bb
2nd clarinet in Bb (+bass cl(Bb))
1st bassoon
2nd bassoon
1st horn in F
2nd horn in F
3rd horn in F
4th horn in F
1st trumpet in C
2nd trumpet in C
1st trombone
2nd trombone
bass trombone
percussion
celesta
harp
organ
violin I
violin II
viola
violoncello
contrabass
Commission:
Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart
Duration:
20’
Dedication:
on the 200th anniversary of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy's birth
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Audiosamples

Psalm 42
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The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

Work introduction

Psalm 42 was commissioned by the Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart for their celebration of the 200th anniversary of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s birth. Mendelssohn’s composition of the same name, Psalm 42 op. 42, is for chorus, soloists, orchestra and organ. Following the Bachakademie’s suggestion I kept close to the original setting of Mendelssohn’s Psalm, adding only a few instruments (harp, celesta). Also the percussion and organ parts are much more extensive compared to the original. The number of soloists differs slightly as well. Mendelssohn uses five singers (1 soprano, 2 tenors and 2 basses). I decided to use two (a soprano and a bass). With regard to the text, it was slightly cut by Mendelssohn, whereas I have set the full version. A recording of the text in Hebrew, read by a narrator, is added to the beginning of the piece.

One might wonder of course what a modern composer is supposed to do when asked to create a contemporary version of an almost two hundred year-old composition. Well, one can do a lot even within very narrow limits. And in this particular case they were not as narrow as it might seem. The text of the Psalm 42 is rather rich in both in its language and its emotional content. The eleven verses are all different in mood and character. It builds up to very powerful climaxes in some parts and calms down to almost idyllic scenes in others. It has a powerful drama in it and can be put to music either as a succession of several separate episodes (Mendelssohn’s version) or be treated as an exciting dramatic episode in an opera (my choice). As I understand it, the story is of a lonely human soul being constantly cast between greatest despair and the most innocent belief and hope in the Almighty and His grace.

It is a great honour to contribute to the worldwide celebration of Mendelssohn’s anniversary with this piece. For me his music has always been a perfect example of an exquisite musical taste. What always remains after listening to any of his compositions is a memory of a beautiful and incredibly well-balanced work of art, a real treasure indeed. He was an artist with a pure and sincere soul full of joy and harmony. Two hundred years ago it was perhaps not that rare at all. Nowadays … is it?

Victoria Borisova-Ollas

World première

Location:
Stuttgart
Date:
13.09.2009
Orchestra:
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin
Conductor:
Hans-Christoph Rademann

Press reviews

"The 42nd Psalm is transformed into an imaginary operatic scene. Complex rhythms, archaic power and minimalistic threads of sound are interchanged with a mixture of a kind of overfilled children´s room and agressive asceticism. The composer searches for paths to God in the musical ruins of our time - with feverish intensity and thrilling piquancy."

(Felix Stephan, Berliner Morgenpost)

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