ZAIMONT: Scared Service for the Sabbath Evening
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Judith Lang Zaimont (b. 1945):
Sacred Service for the Sabbath Evening
(excerpts) (1976) A Woman of Valor (eshet hayil)
Parable: A Tale of Abram and Isaac
Meditations at the Time of the New Year
(1997) Sacred Service for the Sabbath Evening
(excerpts) (1976) Commissioned in 1976 by the Great Neck Choral Society (New York) in honor of the American Bicentennial, Zaimont's Sacred Service for the Sabbath Evening
is, despite its title, primarily a concert work rather than an actual synagogue worship service. It is a cohesive, astutely arched, and musically integrated series of sixteen artistic settings--mostly of English prose or quasi-poetic texts taken from the Union Prayerbook for Jewish Worship
. As the creation and publication of the rabbinical organ of the American Reform movement (the Central Conference of American Rabbis), this was--for much of the 20th century, until at least the 1980s--the preponderant prayerbook of Reform congregations in the United States. Quite a few 20th-century composers--including some of the most recognizable names in the classical music world (Ernest Bloch, Darius Milhaud, David Diamond, and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, to cite only a few)-- have created sophisticated artistic settings of Sabbath services, with a view toward blurring the distinction between functional prayer experience and concert-oriented expression. Indeed, some of these works have succeeded admirably within both formats: as formal worship, particularly at unconventional services or celebrations in modern or progressive non-orthodox congregations that were receptive to the notion of expanding liturgical aesthetics in the context of Western musical perspectives; and, independently, on the concert stage. Zaimont's work, however, which is based largely on texts that fall outside the liturgy per se
, appears to transcend the functional boundaries of synagogue ritual altogether. By turns dramatic and meditative in its reflection of the various moods suggested by the words, it relates to its texts as poetry and poetic prose that--in keeping with the spirit and worldview embraced by the authors of the Union Prayerbook
itself--can resonate on universal planes. Three choral numbers that were extracted from the work and issued separately in folio publications are suitable for rendition within worship services. These have in fact been performed widely--in synagogues as well as concert venues, and even in Christian churches. Yet apart from these individual pieces, this Sacred Service
is, in its entirety, essentially a religiously oriented--but extra-liturgical--extended cantata for baritone solo, mixed chorus, and symphony orchestra. The texts selected by the composer comprise liberal English translations and paraphrases of Hebrew prayers, as well as original meditative, supplicatory, or inspirational English readings that were intended by the Union Prayerbook
's authors for spoken delivery from the pulpit by the rabbi or other ministerial officiant, or for responsorial articulation between reader and congregation. Those para-liturgical readings were in turn based loosely on--or drawn from--traditional liturgical and biblical passages and sentiments, which were often recast to resonate with contemporary sensibilities, aesthetics, and concerns. Although the aggregate American Reform musical literature contains numerous practical settings of actual prayer texts and hymns in English versions, dating as far back as the 19th century, Zaimont was probably the first composer to intuit artistic possibilities in the eloquent language of those supplementary oratorical readings and to set them musically as oratorio-like arias, ariosos, accompanied recitatives, and contrapuntal choral pieces. The original Hebrew of the most familiar succinct liturgical or biblical pronouncements is maintained--followed by the English versions--in only a few instances in the score. In their effort to streamline and abbreviate the liturgy for Sabbath services, as well as to provide week-to-week variety within the new format, the editors of the Union Prayerbook
divided the Sabbath eve section (which also incorporates excerpted elements of the traditionally separate preliminary kabbalat shabbat
--"welcoming the Sabbath"--liturgy) into five distinct alternative services. Each service was based on extracted elements of the traditional liturgy, albeit often abridged or reordered, surrounded by the newly fashioned English readings. Congregations were then able to select one of those services for any particular Sabbath. Zaimont based her work on the third such Sabbath eve service as it appeared in the 1947 edition. The sixteen movements of Zaimont's Sacred Service
appear in three large sections of five pieces each, with an epilogue following Part Three. Parts One and Two exhibit a dramatic approach, each concluding with an impressive choral movement. Part Three (not represented in the recorded excerpts here) has a more sustained, meditative character. Throughout the work, the chorus, which is never relegated to an accompanying role, functions as an equal partner with the baritone solo. Textural variety is provided by occasional alternation between full chorus and a double quartet of choral soloists. The Excerpts Recorded Here: Part One
[Track 1] I.
The opening choral movement of the service, The Lord Reigneth,
is the Union Prayerbook'
s English version of Psalm 97. Also commonly known by its Hebrew incipit, adonai malakh,
it is the third Psalm at the beginning of the traditional kabbalat shabbat
liturgy. But in the third alternate Sabbath eve service in the Union Prayerbook,
it is the introductory Psalm. The principal musical motive of this setting serves as a kind of leitmotif, which recurs in the concluding passages of all three parts of the work.  II. God and Father,
a baritone solo recitative, is a setting of the English reading that follows Psalm 97 in the Union Prayerbook.
Although this text is not liturgy per se
, its content is a pastiche of Sabbath-related thoughts and noble sentiments that touch upon ethical obligations and social conscience.  IV. Why Do We Deal Treacherously?
This setting is drawn from the English responsive reading in the Union Prayerbook
that, in its third Sabbath eve service, serves as a preamble to the proclamation of worship with which the principal liturgy of all prayer services commences: bar'khu et adonai ham'vorakh
(Worship the Lord to whom all worship is due). The alternation between baritone solo and choir reflects that between the reader and the congregation in the responsorial format of the text, which incorporates biblical verses. Jazz-like syncopations give the setting an agitated quality, reinforced by the choral repetition of the question posed by the opening line. Effective shouts and whispers in the choir are punctuated by the soloist's gentle but firm response. Part Two
The opening movement of the second section begins with this meditation, introduced by the words O Lord, How Can We Know Thee?
This da capo
aria is a setting of the English reading in the Union Prayerbook
that serves as a prelude to the pronouncement of Judaism's central creed of monotheism, sh'ma yisra'el adonai eloheinu adonai ehad
(Listen, Israel! Adonai--
the Lord--is our God; the Lord is the only God--His unity is His essence). This proclamation of God's eternal oneness and universality, together with its continuing paragraph that affirms the requirement of unequivocal d