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William Schuman: "New England Triptych - Be Glad Then America"

July 27, 2010

Below you can find information on the first movement of William Schuman's New England Triptych, entitled Be Glad Then, America.

 

William Schuman, New England Triptych, I. Be Glad Then, America

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

 

The program notes below are from http://www.windband.us.

 

Be Glad Then, America

 

This composition is the first movement of Schuman’s New England Triptych, originally written for orchestra in 1956 and based on hymns by William Billings. The other works of the Triptych are When Jesus Wept and Chester. The composer wrote the following program note:

 

William Billings (1746 - 1800) is a major figure in the history of American music. The works of this dynamic composer capture the spirit of sinewy ruggedness, deep religiosity, and patriotic fervor that we associate with the Revolutionary period. Despite the undeniable crudities and technical shortcomings of his music, its appeal even today, is forceful and moving. I am not alone among American composers who feel an identity with Billings, and it is this sense of identity that accounts for my use of his music as a point of departure. These pieces do not constitute a “fantasy” on themes of Billings, nor “variations” on his themes, but rather a fusion of styles and musical language.

 

Billings’ text for this anthem includes the following lines:

Yea, the Lord will answer Be glad then, America,

And say unto his people — behold! Shout and rejoice.

I will send you corn and wine Fear not O land,

and oil Be glad and rejoice.

And ye shall be satisfied therewith. Hallelujah!

 

A timpani solo begins the short introduction, which is developed predominantly in the strings. This music is suggestive of the “Hallelujah" heard at the end of the piece. Trombones and trumpets begin the main section, a free and varied setting of the words “Be Glad Then, America, Shout and Rejoice.” The timpani, again solo, leads to a middle fugal section stemming from the words “And Ye Shall Be Satisfied.” The music gains momentum, and combined themes lead to a climax. There follows a free adaptation of the “Hallelujah” music with which Billings concludes his original choral piece and a final reference to the “Shout and Rejoice” music.

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