The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (289): Psalm down, please

The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (289): Psalm down, please


norman lebrecht

January 18, 2021

Memories of the first performance in 1965:


  • R. Brite says:

    This is one of my favourite works by Bernstein, and I’ve sung it with a couple of choirs. I’d never seen the BBC clip. Thanks, Norman.

  • Duncan says:

    A terrific piece of music. I first heard it in 1975 at the Worcester Three Choirs Festival and was bowled over by it. Have since sung it a couple of times and the treble solo melody in the middle movement always tugs at the heart. Incidentally, the setting of ‘Why do the nations rage’ uses a discarded passage from West Side Story that was used in an aggressive song about the antagonism between the two gangs: ‘Mix! Make a mess of them!’. It not only fits the Hebrew words of Psalm 100 exactly, but the aggression of the Psalm also marries up with the aggression of West Side Story. Dean Walter Hussey had asked Bernstein if the music could have a touch of WSS in it and he actually got some!
    Thanks for this post Norman.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    Thanks for this. Actually the premiere wasn’t in Chichester but at NY Philharmonic Hall a couple of weeks earlier. In the clip they’re really referring to UK premiere

  • Una says:

    I did the work with the BBC Singers in the late 80s or 90s, can’t remember when. But it certainly was when Stephen Cleobury was running Westminster Cathedral so the treble was from there. Stephen played the organ and Nick, his brother, conducted it. Wonderful spirited work by a genius for me.

  • E says:

    Thanks for this. Reading the Psalms does indeed bring calm…that reflection came to me with another recent post that led to the Psalms. Timeless.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    It is certainly one of Bernstein’s finest works, and it’s nice to be reminded of it; I haven’t heard it in a while.
    I’ve both sung in the chorus and played percussion parts in the orchestra (not at the same performance, of course!).
    It’s a truly stirring work.
    Thanks, Norman.

  • Peter Owen says:

    Odd there was no mention of John Birch who conducted the UK premiere.

  • Sixtus says:

    I think that Chichester Psalms is Bernstein’s most musically successful concert work. But I am continually astonished at the overwhelming number of performances and recordings that, while retaining the full orchestration, seemingly ignore the composer’s note printed in the score: “The soprano and alto parts are written with boys’ voices in mind. It is possible, though not preferable, to substitue women’s voices.”

    Use of an all-male choir and the full original orchestration is even rarer for the work that undoubtedly served as Bernstein’s model. In the score of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms we are told “the choir should contain children’s voices, which may be replaced by female voices (soprano and alto) if a children’s choir is not available.”

    The aura created by both masterpieces is substantially altered if these instructions are actually followed.