Al Naharot Bavel (1999) for baritone and piano

text in Hebrew

Duration: 5.5 minutes


The text, the 137th psalm from the Book of Psalms, expresses mourning at the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jews, as well an extreme (by modern standards) desire for vengeance. But most importantly, this psalm asks that we remember Jerusalem and the Temple's destruction even when we are content, even in our happiest moments. This last message of the psalm is reflected in its use in contemporary Judaism: a verse of the psalm is recited at weddings before the bridegroom crushes a glass (a ritual which also recalls the destruction of the Temple); and the psalm is often recited as part of prayers after meals, to recall the destruction of the Temple even at a time when our bodies are full and content.

In this setting, I have tried to reconcile liturgical musical styles with contemporary art music. Many of the melodies are based loosely on ancient Sephardic melodies for this psalm, and portions of the piano accompaniment allude to harmonies and textures common in American hymn settings. These allusions, though, are placed in the context of a more abstract and dissonant musical style.

Performance History

  • Columbia Composers; Ted Huffman, baritone; Eric Huebner, piano (October 2000)