Leonard Bernstein—Jeremiah Symphony

Jeremiah Symphony 2

Leonard Bernstein. Symphony No. 1, “Jeremiah.” New York: Boosey & Hawkes, 1992. pp. 17-18.

© Copyright 1943 by Harms, Inc.; Copyright Renewed. This version published by Jalni Publications, Inc., by arrangement with the copyright owner. Boosey & Hawkes, Inc., Sole Agent. All Rights Reserved. International Copyright Secured.

Jeremiah Symphony 3

Music Library M1001.B485 J4 1992


            Bernstein’s first symphony, nicknamed "Jeremiah" on account of its subject matter, premiered in 1942. The first two movements—“Prophecy” and “Profanation”—are instrumental, and the third—“Lamentation”—adds to the orchestra a solo mezzo-soprano. The Hebrew text of the third movement is from the book of Lamentations. Bernstein claimed no specific subtext was intended for the first two movements beyond the general association with Jeremiah. Rather, they were designed to evoke emotional states and illuminate humanity’s struggle to have faith in itself (though Max Stern, in Bible and Music, p. 329, suggests Jeremiah 2-4 as a possible text for these movements).

            The second movement is shown here. According to Bernstein’s notes in the 1992 corrected score, the music conveys “the destruction and chaos brought on by the pagan corruption within the priesthood and the people.” In this movement, Bernstein’s music is based on traditional Hebrew chant. He creates a sense of distortion by using an asymmetrical meter, and an overall sense of brazenness emerges from bombastic percussion and brass outbursts. The score, a gift to IU’s Cook Music Library from the estate of Leonard Bernstein, is the 1992 corrected edition.