Abraham and Isaac is a sacred balled for high baritone voice and small orchestra, composed on the Hebrew (Masoretic) text of Genesis (B’reshit), chapter XXII.
No translation of the Hebrew should be attempted, the Hebrew syllables, both as accentuation and timbre, being a principal and a fixed element of the music. I did not try to follow Hebrew cantillation, of course, as that would have imposed crippling restrictions, but the verbal and musical accentuation are identical in the score, which fact I mention because it is rare in my music. Repetitions of words occur – not a rare event with me – but never with exact musical repetitions. “Abraham” is the most often repeated word, and it is sung the first time without instruments. The vocal line is partly melismatic (bel canto), partly an interval-speech of single syllables.
Of the multiple origins of every work, the most important is the least easy to describe. I must say, however, that the initial stimulus came to me with the discovery of Hebrew as sound. But there was a strong extra-musical motivation, too: I wished to leave a token of gratitude to the people of Israel, to whom the score is dedicated, for their generous hospitality during my tour of their country in 1962.
– Igor Stravinsky