Maybe it's the Easter influence, but this week's pick of the week is what I consider something of an oddity: Psalm 126 written for the American Symphony Orchestra in 1998.
I've never really taken Philip Glass' religious themed music in the same way I would consider Arvo Part's religious work, or for that matter Messiaen's religious music, or even Bach. Not to be misunderstood, I am not saying that Philip Glass is not religious or insincere in his music which takes a religious subject as its starting point. Rather I think of the aforementioned composers as devout believers, and as belonging to that school of composer who writes that type of work largely with a vision of dedicating them to the glory of God.
I think of Glass' considerable work in this field as akin to Verdi's Requiem or Te Deum; Verdi was an atheist and a well educated man, but for some reason he had a calling to compose these pieces. I don't believe that his reason for composing them was fear of death, but rather that his motivations were a response to belonging to a greater culture to which religion was undeniably important. Otherwise said, he was reacting to his culture, appealing to it, and speaking in its own language. Glass subscribes publicly to attractive ideas he finds in all sorts of different traditions (Buddhism, Toltec, Judaisim, etc.) but doesn't consider himself a member or follower of anything exclusively.
Glass' 'liturgical' works are most often dramatic, abstract (Symphony No.5 as a reflection on "wisdom traditions" (religious texts)) or of religions which lie outside main stream American culture. Am I alone here in not really knowing anything about Milarepa or Ramakrishna?
So it's a surprise when Glass goes against expectation by doing a totally straightforward setting of Psalm 126. I was very happy when the recording of this finally came to be in 2005
as part of the Milken Archives Naxos release Psalms of Joy and Sorrow.
The text is a direct statement of joy. People who turn to happiness and joy clearly are infused with the Lord. The music reflects that joy replete with happy chorus. This is where my personal feelings about religion falter, for there is nothing wrong with pausing to be joyful and spreading happiness (regardless of circumstance.) This is a simple nice piece about that.
The CD of Psalms of Joy and Sorrow is still available, but the MP3 album cannot be bought anymore for some reason on iTunes or Amazon.