Contemporary choral music in general and George Rochberg’s in particular present challenges to the conductor well beyond the traditional repertoire including complex harmonies and rhythms, tone clusters, sprechstimme, and unconventional notation. In addition, the conductor must alter usual score preparation techniques and acquire a more detailed knowledge about differences in twentieth century music. He/she must learn the techniques of contemporary music through study in theory and analysis. The conductor can also take advantage of many available books and journals that offer insight into the study, rehearsal, and performance of this music. As the conductor acquires the necessary skill in twentieth century techniques and an understanding of the evolution of this repertoire, she/he can devise effective presentation and rehearsal procedures. An examination of specific choral works composed in an atonal style and consisting of some of the characteristics previously mentioned may provide greater understanding of contemporary choral music.
The purpose of this document is to provide a conductor’s analysis of the three Psalm settings composed by George Rochberg: Psalm 23, Psalm 43, and Psalm 150. The first chapter presents a biography of the composer and traces some of the influences on the development of his compositional style. The second, third, and fourth chapters present the analyses of Psalm 23, Psalm 43, and Psalm 150, respectively. The first section of each chapter discusses areas related to the poetry including authorship, liturgical function, structure and meaning. The second section discusses musical components including overall form, pitch content, horizontal and vertical characteristics, and texture. Of particular interest is the tonal structure of the works, the primary component being the hexachord. The last chapter discusses performance considerations including learning the works, developing rehearsal strategies for teaching the rhythms and pitches, addressing the Hebrew diction and its intricacies, as well as making interpretive and programming decisions.
These three psalm settings by Rochberg contain the same interesting and inventive craftsmanship present in much contemporary choral music and are worthy of study and performance.