‘I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously’
Song of Moses is a 70-minute oratorio by American neoclassic composer David Ward-Steinman (November 6, 1936 – April 14, 2015), who regarded it as the culmination of his musical influences (namely Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Bartók, Hindemith, Piston and Copland) and his aesthetic development.
The composition is a musical interpretation of the story of Moses, inspired by the Old Testament Books of Exodus, Deuteronomy 32:1-43, and Numbers. The librettist both quotes and paraphrases from these books, as well as the Book of Psalms, by way of translations that appear in the King James Version of the Bible.
It was commissioned in 1963 by J Dayton Smith at the Music Department of San Diego State College, and had its premiere on 31 May 1964 with Paul V Anderson conducting the SDSC Concert Choir, Chorus and Symphony Orchestra, and Hollywood star Gregory Peck acting as narrator.
The oratorio was again performed twice on 19 May 1968 (at 3.13pm and 8.15pm) at the CE Peterson Gymnasium at San Diego State College, with Howard Hill conducting and Vincent Price as the narrator.
According to Ward-Steinman, the work was conceived dramatically and musically as an immense arch reaching a climax of concentration and intensity in the centre: unlike most other oratorios, it begins and ends quietly. Structurally, it is divided into a Prologue and four Parts, each encompassing a portion of the Moses epic. The Prologue begins at the end: Moses is on Mt Nebo, dying seeing the Promised Land, but forbidden to enter.
Oh Lord God…
Have I not served thee well all these years?
I pray thee, let me go over
and see the good land that is beyond the Jordan.
those verdant highlands, and the Lebanon.
The Narrator answers:
But the Lord was angry with Moses for his people’s
sake, and would not hear him.
Why the Lord was ‘angry’ is not only the subject of the oratorio, but an insight into the character of Moses himself – certainly the most fascinating and intriguing figure in the Old Testament. The oratorio begins with The Call, and from here on the narration is chronological. At the conclusion, The Death of Moses, we are back at the opening scene of the Prologue, and the initial question raised there has now been answered. Moses, in perfect acceptance, sings:
Give praise unto God!
He is the Rock, his work is perfect,
for all his ways are just;
A God of truth without iniquity:
Just and right is he.
The concluding chorus of the Prologue returns in epilog:
And there arose not a prophet since in Israel
like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face
HEAR THE COMPLETE RECORDING OF THE 1968 CENTURY RECORDS RELEASE
Battle and Triumph
The Death of Moses
Moses: David M Loomis (baritone)
Pharaoh: Leonard A Johnson (tenor)
Aaron: Victor Merth (tenor)
Voice: Doris Jean Stone (soprano)