New England Triptych

William Schuman

Performing Ensemble: Orchestra
Publisher: Merion Music, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

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 which accounts for my use of his music as a point of departure. These pieces do not constitute a "fantasy" on themes of Billings, not "variation" on his themes, but rather a fusion of styles and musical language.

I. Be Glad Then, America
Billings' text for this anthem includes the following lines:
"Yea, the Lord will answer
And say unto his people ? behold!
I will send you corn and wine and oil
And ye shall be satisfied therewith,

Be glad then, America
Shout and rejoice.
Fear not O land,
Be glad and rejoice,

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 Billing concludes his original choral piece and a final reference to the "Shout and Rejoice" music.

II. When Jesus Wept

"When Jesus wept the falling tear
In mercy flowed beyond all bound.
When Jesus groaned, a trembling fear
Seized all the guilty world around."

The setting of the above text is in the form of a round. Here, Billings' music is used in its original form, as well as in new settings with contrapuntal embellishments and melodic extensions.

III. Chester

This music, composed as a church hymn, was subsequently adopted by the Continental Army as a marching song and enjoyed great popularity. The orchestral piece derives from the spirit both of the hymn and the marching song. The original words, with one of the verses especially written for the Continental Army, follow:

"Let tyrants shake their iron rods,
And slavery clank her galling chains,
We fear them not, we trust in God,
New England's God forever reigns.

The foe comes on with haughty stride,
Our troops advance with martial noise,
Their vet'rans flee before our youth,
Gen'rals yield to beardless boys."

Available on Rental

Additional Information

Commission Commission Information: Andre Kostelanetz
Composition Date 1956
Duration 13:00
Orchestration 3 3 4 2 - 4 3 3 1; Timp. Perc. Str.
Premiere October 26, 1956, University of Miami (FL) Symphony Orchestra, Andre Kostelanetz


I. Be Glad Then, America
II. When Jesus Wept
III. Chester

Score Preview