MAX STERN / Israel / - Chapter of Song
Let everything that hath breath praise the LORD, Hallelujah (Ps 150:6).
Perek Shirah for narrator and orchestra (1994) or Chapter of Song is based on an anonymous collection of sayings from the Psalms and other ancient scriptural and non-scriptural passages said to have originated with King David, and placed in the mouth of all creation except man. It is a mysterious text pregnant with profound philosophical symbolism. Everything that is called by My name was created in My honor: I created it, I produced it, I made it (Is 43:7).
In Perek Shirah, the entire cosmos, inanimate nature, plants, animals, birds, and insects praise God - according to the Jewish view that all things are endowed with sensation: He teaches us from the animals of the land, and from the birds of the heavens He makes us wise (Job 35:11). This conception is not only poetically expressed in the Bible, but, occurs quite frequently in Talmudic and Midrashic literature, where the singing and praise of animals and trees are spoken of. God's visit to the pious in paradise (with which the song of the rooster is connected) is frequently mentioned in mystic literature.
The psalmist says that the entire creation tells of the glory of God and sings its unique song of praise to the Creator: It is good to give thanks to the LORD, and sing praise unto His name (Ps. 92:1).
Praise the LORD from the heavens.
Praise Him, sun and moon: praise Him, all ye stars of light.
Praise the LORD from the earth,
Fire, and hail; stormy wind fulfilling his word:
Mountains, and all hills; fruitful trees, and all cedars:
Beasts, and all cattle; creeping things, and flying fowl:
Praise ye the LORD (Ps 148).
The Prophets not only personify nature, they ethicize it, endowing natural phenomenon with the capacity of understanding moral distinctions.
Let the wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts and return unto the LORD,
Then shall the mountains and the hills break forth into singing,
And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands (Is 55: 7, 12).
The earth says that 'its fullness belongs to God'. The stars proclaim that 'God alone made the heavenly hosts'. The horse says that 'just as it looks to its master, so must all look to God'. The lion teaches the importance of might as well as the power of self control. The ant shows the slothful person how much can be accomplished if he will but utilize the gifts God gave to him. These are only a few examples of the praises of Chapter of Song. What do they represent? Simply this: God's song of praise is sung whenever every part of creation performs its assigned task.
In a philharmonic orchestra, when the musicians play their assigned parts, the result is an outburst of ebullience that can seem almost heavenly in its beauty. But, if each player improvises as he pleases without regard to the fused outcome, the result will not be music, but noise - a deafening, horrendous cacophony. The concept behind Perek Shirah is that everything in the natural world teaches us a lesson for life, if we can, but only, listen and understand. When man hears the message of the heavens and the ant and everything in between, then all creation has value and becomes the symphony that God intended. "Were it not for the daily hymns and songs of Praise," says God, "I should not have created the world."
In keeping with the 'all-inclusive' quality of the subject - speech, sound-effects, extended instrumental techniques, improvisation, tonality, non-tonality, pulse, theatricality, humor and chaos are combined and integrated into a sonorous fabric - interpreting the call to adoration by bringing to life - each aspect and character in its own unique voice - the enigmatic and often impenetrable vibrations of heaven and earth and trees, along with the unfathomable meanings behind the sounds of fowl, animals, and insects.
Max Stern (b. 1947 USA/ 1976 Israel), a pioneer figure in Israel's musical life, has received international recognition for creating a rich genre of biblical compositions blending East and West, ethnic, and contemporary idioms and genres. He won the Lieberson Prize of the Israel Composers League (1990), received an award from the Japanese Society for Contemporary Music (1991), special mention "for personal language in balance between tradition and innovation" at the International Epicmusic Composition Prize (Italy, 2004), and citation for contribution to the cultural development of the Negev by the Histadrut Federation of Labor and LOGON (2003).