• Gunther Schuller
  • Sacred Cantata (Psalm 98) (1966)

  • Associated Music Publishers Inc (World)
  • 1101/1110/2perc/org/str(
  • SATB
  • 19 min

Programme Note

Commissioned: American Guild of Organists
World Premiere: Atlanta, Georgia in June 1966

Composer Note:
The Sacred Cantata—Psalm XCVIII was written on commission from the American Guild of Organists for their annual convention held in Atlanta, Georgia in June 1966. The first performance took place at that convention with members of the Schola Cantorum of New York and the Atlanta Symphony, conducted by Hugh Ross. The instrumentation calls for organ, a trio of woodwinds (flute, oboe, bassoon), a trio of brass (trumpet, horn, trombone), a trio of strings (violin, cello, bass), and two percussionists.
The work is in five movements, the first of which takes the text “O sing a new song unto the Lord” and relates the sibilant sounds and other consonants in the text to similar or analogous sounds in the percussion. Moreover, the text is fragmented in a variety of ways, including the passing of it from one part of the chorus 5to another. Spoken, whispered or shouted lines are frequently interpolated between sung sections. Thus there is established a continuity between 1) comprehension of the text and non-comprehension (by virtue of its fragmentation and dissection); and 2) syllabic fragments and instrumental percussive sounds.
The second movement, marked Energico presents the chorus mostly in unison lines, accompanied by the full instrumental ensemble.
In the third movement various instrumental allusions are made to the text, “make a joyful noise”, and textural references are made to the harp and trumpet. Here too, relationships are explored, between instruments and their corresponding organ stops.
The fourth movement exploits the dramatic descriptive character of the text, i.e. references to the roaring sea, clapping of hands, etc. The middle section consists of a combinatorially conceived four-part canon, accompanied by a related tone-color-melody in the instruments. It ends in a slow coda over an undulating pedal point in the organ.
The fifth movement presents exactly the same material as the first except that what appeared in the organ in the first movement now is transcribed for the nine instruments. The organ in turn is given new material which is of a highly ornamental and accompanimental character, overlayed, as it were, over the chorus, instruments and soft percussion.

— Gunther Schuller