“O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!” The words of the Psalm look bright on the page, but the music pulls them into shadow. The key is G minor. The bass instruments drone on the tonic while the violins weave sixteenth notes around the other notes of the triad. On the third beat of the first bar comes a twinge of harmonic pain—one oboe sounding an E-flat against another oboe’s held D. Oboes are piercing by nature; to place them a half step apart triggers an aggressive acoustic roughness, as when car horns lean on adjacent pitches. In the next several bars, more dissonances accumulate, sustaining tension: F-sharp against G, A-flat against G, E-flat against D, B-flat against A-natural. The ensemble wanders away from the home key and then back, whereupon the cycle begins again, now with a chorus singing “Herr, unser Herrscher” (“Lord, our ruler”) in chords that contract inward: Full story.
Alex Ross (The New Yorker) / January 2, 2017
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