New England Triptych
Length: 16 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes (3rd = piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, E-flat clarinet, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, tenor drum), and strings
A long-time champion of an "American" musical sound and style, William Schuman consciously chose iconic American subjects as extra-musical material for his compositions. His New England Triptych, subtitled Three Pieces for Orchestra After William Billings, draws on works of the 18th-century composer to evoke an atmosphere of the Revolutionary period. Schuman was so desirous that his intent be communicated fully to an audience that he prefaced his score with the following note:
"William Billings (1746-1800) is a major figure in the history of American music. The works of this dynamic composer capture the spirit of sinewy ruggedness, deep religiosity, and patriotic fervor that we associate with the Revolutionary period…. I am not alone among American composers who feel an identity with Billings and it is this sense of identity which accounts for my use of his music as a point of departure. These pieces do not constitute a 'fantasy' on themes of Billings, nor 'variations' on his themes, but rather a fusion of styles and musical language."
I. Be Glad Then, America
The following lines are included in Billing's anthem:
Yea, the Lord will answer
and say unto his people - behold!
I will send you corn and wine and oil
And ye shall be satisfied therewith.
Be glad then, America,
Shout and rejoice.
Fear not O land,
Be glad and rejoice.
A timpani solo opens the work and is developed primarily by the strings. Trombones and trumpets begin the main section as a varied setting of the words "Be glad then, America, Shout and rejoice."
II. When Jesus Wept
When Jesus wept the falling tear
In mercy flowed beyond all bound;
When Jesus groaned, a trembling fear
Seized all the guilty world around.
Following Billings' lead, Schuman sets this movement as a round.
Let tyrants shake their iron rods,
And slavery clank her galling chains,
We fear them not, we trust in God,
New England's God forever reigns.
The foe comes on with haughty stride,
Our troops advance with martial noise,
Their veterans flee before our youth,
And generals yield to beardless boys.
Composed as a church hymn, this music was subsequently adopted as a marching song by the Continental Army. The scherzo-like quality of the music following the hymn reflects this change.
- Composer Steve Lacoste is the Archivist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.