Minors of the Majors
Franz Peter Schubert: Psalm 23, Op. 132

young-schubert-1347455176-article-0“Minors of the Majors” invites you to discover compositions by the great classical composers that for one reason or another have not reached the musical mainstream. Please enjoy, and keep listening!

Among the most influential writings of the Hebrew Bible, which makes up the Christian Old Testament, is the book of Psalms. It consists of 150 religious songs of varying length, including hymns, laments, Songs of trust, wisdom and pilgrimage. Jewish and Muslim traditions suggest, that the majority of Psalms are the work of King David, second ruler of the United Kingdom of Israel. Jewish and early Christian churches used the Psalms in worship, and in many Christian assemblies today, Psalm texts have gained a popularity that extends well beyond regular church service. In particular, Psalm 23, evoking the image of God as a Shepherd frequently serves as a comforting message during funeral service. Given the popularity of this Psalm, it is hardly surprising that composers throughout the ages, including Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828), have set this text to music.

Franz Schubert: Psalm 23, Op. 132
For his setting of Psalm 23 (The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want), which was commissioned by his fellow choir director Anna Fröhlich in 1820, Schubert relied on the German text translation fashioned by Moses Mendelssohn. Scored for two soprano and two alto sections, the composition was specifically commissioned to serve for vocal examinations at Vienna’s Konservatorium der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. The work was highly regarded from the beginning, and called “a pleasant composition, if rather too long.” It opens with a flowing introduction of gently shifting harmonies. The choir enters with the first line of text sung to a melody of charming simplicity. This opening line is slightly varied and once repeated before Schubert musically explores the comforting and pastoral sentiments expressed in the text. A piquant modulation leads to a quiet, yet highly chromatic section in which Schubert musically expresses his defiance of death (Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.) For the concluding affirmation of faith, Schubert skilfully combines textural declamation and serenity of expression with a highly effective and nuanced musical language. The work remained among the conservatory’s examination pieces for many years to come.

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