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William Schuman: "New England Triptych, II. When Jesus Wept"

Continuing with William Schuman's New England Triptych, you can find information on, and a recording of, the second movement, When Jesus Wept, below. We find again (as in all three movements of the Triptych), Schuman drawing his inspiration from a William Billings' hymn.

William Schuman, New England Triptych, II. When Jesus Wept

"The President's Own" United States Marine Band, Lt. Col. Jason Fettig, conductor


William Howard Schuman studied at the Malkin Conservatory in New York, Teachers College of Columbia University, and the Mozarteum Academy in Salzburg. He eventually became president of the Juilliard School of Music and in 1962 became the first president of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Schuman won the first Pulitzer Prize in music for his 1943 cantata, A Free Song. Among Schuman’s works are an opera, eight symphonies, concertos, choral works, band works, and chamber pieces. In 1987, Schuman received the National Medal of Arts and was honored by the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in 1989.

When Jesus Wept is the second movement of New England Triptych, composed for orchestra in 1956 and transcribed by the composer for band two years later. The orchestral version was premiered on October 28, 1956 by the Miami (FL) University Symphony Orchestra, André Kostelanetz, conductor. The Triptych is based on three pieces by the 18th century American composer William Billings. When Jesus Wept first appeared in the New England Psalm Singer in 1770 as a four-part fuguing tune in F-sharp minor. Billings’ haunting, evocative melody supports the poignant text:

When Jesus wept, the falling tear

In mercy flowed beyond all bound;

When Jesus groaned, a trembling fear

Seized all the guilty world around.

Schuman first presents the tune in its entirety as a duet and then juxtaposes fragments of the tune at varied pitch levels, contributing to a profoundly unsettled mood. The middle section of the work overlaps the various phrases, recreating the sound of the original fuguing tune. After the opening duet returns, the work closes with a coda which is at once both heroic and defeated.

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