The Golem Psalms
Scored for: baritone solo, SATB, orchestra
Instrumentation: 3 Flutes (3 doubles Piccolo), 2 Oboes, E.H., 2 Clartinets in A, Bass Clarinet, 2 Bassoons, Contra Bassoon, 4 Horns in F., 3 Trumpets in C, 2 Tenor Trombones, 1 Bass Trombone, Tuba, 3 Percussion, Timpani, Harp, Piano/Celesta, Strings
Text: Ellen Frankel
Language: primarily English with some Hebrew
Duration: 30 min.
Premiere: May 7, 2006, Sanford Sylvan, baritone, The Mendelssohn Club, The (augmented) Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, Alan Harler, conductor
Commissioned by: The Mendelssohn Club, Alan Harler, artistic director
Published by: Self-published, Angelfire Press
Contact Andrea Clearfield for score and parts:
The Golem Psalms was released on Innova Label in Fall, 2011 with works by Higdon and Primosch
This work is part of PROJECT : ENCORE™ of Schola Cantorum on Hudson. PROJECT : ENCORE™ works have been premiered, and then evaluated via blind adjudication by prestigious conductors as being works of excellent quality. The online, searchable database is located at: www.scholaonhudson.com/project_encore.
“…What makes the work a Clearfield triumph is the evolution of strengths that have percolated for years in the music of this composer – her way of elucidating text meaning in deeply vivid ways, but in The Golem Psalms doing so within well-weighted, singable phrases that reflect mastery with large choral and instrumental forces.”
–David Patrick Stearns, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“The work is vivid and galvanizing with drum-driven propulsiveness of rock and incantatory choral chanting…In the central fourth movement, Clearfield achieves a timeless beauty with hushed and euphonious choral writing. Clearfield is a natural musical dramatist, and this is an exciting choral/orchestral showpiece.”
–Joshua Rosenblum, Opera News Magazine, 10/26/2012
“Among the many large, choral/orchestra works commissioned by Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia in the past 20 years, Andrea Clearfield’s THE GOLEM PSALMS is one of the most compelling. Beautifully written for both choral and orchestral forces, it has a direct and powerful impact and it remains a favorite of our performers and our audience. The solo role of the baritone, as the Golem, is brilliant. This is a perfectly balanced piece. Working with Andrea is a conductor’s dream!”
–Alan Harler, Music Director, The Mendelssohn Club
Innova Label, upcoming release
Sanford Sylvan, baritone
The Mendelssohn Club, Alan Harler, artistic director
The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia (augmented)
The Golem Psalms – based on the famous legend of the Golem of Prague
A golem is a creature from Jewish folklore, created from mud or clay and brought to life through ritual and mystical incantations. The incantations are derived from the Kabbalistic tradition and feature both words made up from combinations and permutations of the Hebrew alphabet and the sacred, mystical names of God. The golem is often animated through a word of power which is either inscribed on the golem itself or written on a bit of paper and slipped into the golem’s mouth. Golems are completely lifelike, having hair, fingernails, and skin with the warmth and color of human skin, but they lack a soul and the power of speech. They are immensely strong and bound to obey their creator, which they do with a disastrous single-mindedness. There are many accounts of golems, but the most famous is that of the Golem of Prague and his creator, Rabbi Judah Loew…
The Golem Psalms
MON SEMBLABLE, MON FRERE
My name is Joseph the Golem,
but what does that tell you
except that I am raw potential,
waiting to be shaped by need?
What does that tell you
except that I am mute
unless others speak for me,
unless I am the shofar for my creator’s breath?
What does that reveal
except that I came into being by magic,
and was kept secret by those who conjure under threat of death?
Am I so different from you,
shaped by the circumstances of your birth,
subject to the whims of power, the burdens of history?
Am I so different,
invisible but for an act of grace,
doomed to wait for redemption
beneath a shroud of prayers?
1. THE CREATION OF THE GOLEM
In the beginning was chaos,
unformed and mute,
water and wind,
the divine will,
form and life and change and death—
Where was I at the beginning?
Not a seed in God’s mind,
not a creature in paradise,
I was nothing,
not even part of chaos.
after life had chased its tail and swallowed it,
one man arose,
a weaver of spells, master of chaos, redeemer of his people—
and called me forth,
Thus spoke my master,
the lion-hearted rabbi of Prague.
I will create as I speak.
In the beginning God created,
So did Rabbi Judah wrest me from the mud of the Moldau,
and circling seven times,
bring me to life.
Alef, bet, gimel, dalet, hay, vav, zayin.
Eyns, tsvey, dray, fier, finef, zeks, zibn.
Seven gates, seven planets, seven earths, seven heavens,
Seven lands, seven rivers, seven seas and seven deserts,
Seven days, seven weeks, seven years, Jubilee.
Shabbat, Shavuot, shiva, seven-branched menorah.
my skin of mud glowed red with blood,
my lungs drew air, I sprouted hair.
Yet still I was but cold, dead clay, until–
My master etched upon my brow:
and knew life.
3. THE DANGERS OF THE NAME
Moniker–alias—nom de plume–Shem.
Tetragrammaton, the Four-Letter Name,
The Four letters, twelve letters, twenty-two letters,
Forty-two letters, seventy-two letters.
The Adam to Zion of Torah,
The Awesome Name that Cannot Be Said,
The Name that grants life and cancels it.
Gematria of hidden connections,
Gamma equals tria,
How terrible is Your Name, O Nameless One,
The whole world is filled with Your names.
4. THE FOUNTAIN OF VOICES
[Inspired by Psalm 150]
Praise God, all you harps, flutes, and violins!
Praise God, you French horns, bassoons, and oboes!
Praise God, you cymbals and tympani!
Praise God, you mighty chorus of voices!
But as for me, I am dumb,
Incapable of praise or thanksgiving or curse.
The heavens declare the glory of God,
The sky proclaims His handiwork.
Day to day makes utterance,
Night to night speaks out.
There is no utterance,
There are not words,
Whose sound goes unheard.
Their voice carries throughout the earth,
Their words to the end of the world.
May the words of my mouth
And the prayer of my heart
Be acceptable to You,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Remember the words of Your psalmist David,
sweet singer of Israel:
I praise You, for I am awesomely, wondrously made;
My frame was not concealed from You when I was shaped in a hidden place,
Your eyes saw my unformed limbs; they were all recorded in Your book;
In due time they were formed, to the very last one of them.
Golmi–“my unformed limbs”;
You divined me and wrote me in your book,
knowing I would be summoned
when Your people needed me.
How was I to know,
when Mrs. Judah Loew
sent me after fish,
that she didn’t know
how to make me stop or go
when it was her wish
to stop the flow
of scales and roe
for her Sabbath dish?
her house began to overflow
with endless fish
in bowls and pots and hallah dough,
until she sent for Rabbi Loew
what she’d set in motion.
The moral of this tale is: Know
that when intent to best your foe
or see your fortunes grow,
be careful what you wish,
for we don’t always know
that what we mean to sow
may be our finish and our woe.
6. SOUNDS OF CLAY/ALAS POOR JOSEPH
Alas, poor Joseph!
Born without a soul–
the lot of golems
since time began.
Alas, poor Golem!
What a tragic fate was his–
Like the angels,
Singing at God’s right hand,
but tone-deaf to the pleasures of the flesh.
7. THE UNCREATION OF THE GOLEM
How did it end—this miracle of kabbalah and clay?
How did they uncreate the Golem?
As they created him–
seven circles in reverse,
bloody flesh returned to earth:
Zayin, vav, hay, dalet, gimel, bet, alef.
Zibn, zeks, finef, fier, dray, tsvey, eyns.
And then, the end:
Alef rubbed out,
Mem and taf left alone on his brow.
And what remained?
Ayin, the void.
Legend has it that the Golem’s waiting still,
waiting to redeem or be redeemed,
Still waiting, waiting still…