Steve Reich—Tehillim

Tehillim 2

Steve Reich. Tehillim. New York: Boosey & Hawkes, 1981. pp. 222-223.

© Copyright 1981 Steve Reich, Reich Music Publications, Hendon Music, Inc., a Boosey & Hawkes Company, sole agents.

Tehillim 3

Music Library M2033.R4 T4

            Tehillim is among Steve Reich’s first pieces to include text. Scored for chamber ensemble and four women’s voices, the work was premiered in 1981. Like Stravinsky, Reich sets biblical Psalms to music. The first movement deals with Psalm 19, the second Psalm 34, the third Psalm 18, and the fourth Psalm 150. Unlike Stravinsky, Reich sets the text in the original Hebrew. Tehillim is one of Reich’s earliest efforts to explore his Jewish roots through music. Specifically, this piece points to his interest in traditional singing of Psalms, though he does not base any melody on actual Jewish music. Rather, the syntax of the Hebrew language helps determine melody and rhythm.

            Reich is known for his minimalist compositions, where he uses short snippets of melody over a limited range and repeats these in multiple parts or voices, often in canon, which usually creates a wall or wash of sound. This occurs in the fourth movement of Tehillim, in the section shown here. The result is something quite different from the often-brash final movement of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, which also quotes Psalm 150. Looking at the sample of Reich’s score, it is possible to see the canon between all four voices by following the melody’s basic contour. The score, an early edition from 1981, was published the same year as the work’s premiere, and comes from the Cook Music Library.