Shir Hashirim

Julian Anderson (1967)

Shir Hashirim 2001

2222 - 2000 - perc(2) - strings
Text Author 

I have always wanted to set the text of the Song of Songs, the most beautiful love poetry of which I am aware. In fact, a previous attempt to set part of it in English (for chorus and wind in 1994) was only aborted when the commission fell through. Nothing of that attempt could be re-used here, for the music was completely remote stylistically from my present interests and has since been destroyed. However, it was a useful botched attempt at dealing with this richly complex text, which might otherwise have proved very daunting.

This setting is in Hebrew, for the sonorities and accentuation of the original seemed to me still more musical and beautiful than the fine King James Bible version (the Vulgate Latin was discarded mainly because it is a more inaccurate translation). I am much indebted to Amira Goehr for reading the original text to me and helping me to appreciate the syntax and phonetic colours of Hebrew. The orchestral part is highly elaborate and uses a wide range of textures and harmonic/melodic colours in an attempt to match the richness of the text. The modal writing uses hybrid scales which spread over several registers without exact repetition; this enables the orchestral writing to operate on more than one speed and metre simultaneously, and to vary in vocabulary form the very diatonic to the densely chromatic and even microtonal. The vocal part makes use of various different types of word setting, from the syllabic recitation through vocalise to very ornamental melismata. The syllabic recitation clearly takes its cue from the accentuation of the Hebrew, whilst the other approaches tend increasingly to obscure or ignore the natural word stress, breaking the words up and at times almost dissolving them into nonsense syllables.

Shir Hashirim is dedicated to Henri Dutilleux in celebration of his 85th birthday this year.

Julian Anderson

11.7.01 Cheltenham International Festival of Music: Valdine Anderson/Sinfonia 21/Martyn Brabbins
1.6.03 Symphony Hall, Birmingham: Anu Komsi / City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Sakari Oramo
14.1.05 Ultraschall Festival, Berlin: Valdine Anderson / Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin / George Benjamin
19.6.09 Aldeburgh Festival: Claire Booth / BBC Symphony Orchestra / George Benjamin
10.8.09 Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music, USA: Tanglewood Music Center Fellows / Stefan Asbury
27.1.16 BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff: Elizabeth Atherton / BBC National Orchestra of Wales / Pascal Rophé
2nd doubling piccolo
2nd doubling cor anglais
2nd doubling contrabassoon
vibraphone, 2 glockenspiel, tubular bells, crotales, 3 triangle, large sizzle cymbal, anvil, tam-tam, bass drum