Orchestration Note: The following instruments are optional:
- SATB Choir
My father wrote about The Ten Commandments: 'The composition had to express Scripture, history, and drama in music. I hope that it also helps suggest the lasting truth of the film's inspired message." Cecil B. DeMille didn't ask for much. He only wanted him to "...do for Egyptian music what Puccini did for Japanese music in 'Madam Butterfly' and . . . be another Wagner."
At the time my father was only five years into his career with no major credits and finding it difficult to get work during the Hollywood Blacklist Era. DeMille, after hiring him to compose only the music for dances and the Pharaoh’s court musicians, took a chance on the young composer when his first choice and frequent collaborator, Victor Young, bowed out of composing the score due to poor health. In the process, he also saved my father from the Blacklist. My father wrote that it was: "The most exciting project in my entire life."
The events depicted in The Ten Commandments took place about 3,400 years ago. For perspective, let us imagine the Roman Empire at its height in the 3rd century C.E. Those events were as ancient to those Romans as those Romans are to us today. It is a world that is difficult to imagine in our era and yet the universal truths of bondage and freedom resonate as much today as they did thirty-four centuries ago.
Peter Bernstein, 2022
We are in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago.
I. Moses Found
To escape the slaughter of the Hebrew newborns ordered by Pharaoh Seti I, the infant Moses is cast adrift on the Nile where he is discovered by the Pharaoh’s daughter Bithia who raises him as a prince of Egypt.
II. Moses the Builder
Moses grows up to become a general and builder of Egypt. He falls in love with Nefretiri who must marry the next Pharaoh. He learns of the Hebrew God and reforms the treatment of the Hebrew slaves.
Interlude I: Court Life
Music and dance of the royal court.
III. Moses Exiled
Moses discovers that he is Hebrew and meets his real family. He rescues Joshua from the Hebrew overseer Dathan who reports him to Prince Rameses. Pharaoh Seti I declares Rameses his sole heir who will marry Nefretiri. Moses is banished to the desert.
Interlude II: Jethro's Daughters Dance
Jethro's daughters dance for Moses so that he may choose one for his wife.
IV. The Desert and Word of God
Moses wanders the desert and meets Jethro and his seven daughters. He marries Sephora. He is reunited with Joshua and on Mount Sinai he sees the Burning Bush and hears the voice of God.
V. The Plagues
Moses returns to Egypt to ask for the Hebrews' freedom, Pharaoh Rameses refuses, and Egypt endures seven plagues culminating in the death of the son of Rameses and Nefretiri.
The freed slaves leave Egypt.
VII. The Red Sea
Taunted by Nefertiri, Rameses pursues the slaves to the Red Sea where their way is blocked by a pillar of fire while the Red Sea parts to give the Hebrews passage to safety. The Red Sea closes to drown Rameses’ army. Rameses says of Moses, “His God is God.”
VIII. The Finger of God
Moses receives the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai while the Hebrews below revert to idol worship. After wandering the desert for 40 years as punishment they come to the Promised Land. Moses cannot enter and says goodbye at Mount Nebo.