Igor Stravinsky—Symphony of Psalms

Symphony of Psalms 1

Igor Stravinsky. Symphony of Psalms. Berlin: Russischer Musikverlag, ca. 1930. pp. 18-19.

© Boosey & Hawkes.

Symphony of Psalms 2

Lilly Library M2023.S9 S98

            The dedication of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms reads, “This Symphony was composed for the glory of God and dedicated to the Boston Symphony Orchestra on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.” The tie to the Boston Symphony should not detract from the fact that Stravinsky was genuine in his dedication to God, for he was then an observer in the Orthodox Church. Each movement of this 1930 work focuses on the Latin text of a different Psalm: Psalm 38 in the first, Psalm 39 in the second, and Psalm 150 in the final. The piece is composed for orchestra and chorus.

            The section on display shows the opening of the third movement. In this movement, Stravinsky frames a central lively section with a serene, majestic beginning and ending. The homophonic choral writing throughout contrasts effectively with intricate polyphony in the instrumental parts, the latter of which almost evokes the primitivism found in the Rite of Spring. This juxtaposition portrays both the hallowed and active dimensions to the text that declares, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” The 1930 vocal/piano reduction used here is an early edition of the work from the Lilly Library’s collection.