Alex Weiser

after shir hashirim
6' for Chamber Orchestra

Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle
or a young stag upon the mountains of spices.

shir hashirim is the ur-love poem. An ecstatic erotic book found in ketuvim (writings) in the Jewish bible, it has been a source of inspiration for generation after generation of Hebrew love poems. The original text itself contains multitudes: from descriptions of kisses, wine, and sweet fragrances, to passages lamenting a lost love, to lines that are odd and inscrutable, to a warning that love is as strong as death, unquenchable and undrownable.

shir hashirim has been set to music countless times in countless styles. About a year ago I first heard an ancient cantillation of it which added to my sense of its rarified beauty and also its strangeness. As a chant the text feels like it exists on another plane - floating above the intense desire and emotions it describes, and a stark contrast with the kind of emotiveness and yearning we have come to expect from a love song, as we might find in something like Gustav Mahler's Adagietto.

Gustav Mahler has famously said that a symphony should contain the whole world. Indeed, his musical language is one that contains within it room for an incredible diversity of kinds of music - from highbrow to lowbrow, from abstract and ethereal to earthy and gritty. Seeing similar multitudes in Mahler's approach as in the original text of shir hashirim, my aim in after shir hashirim was to write an instrumental love song capturing the complexity and ambiguity of shir hashirim, without completely letting go of Mahler and what we've come to expect from a love song. I aimed to find a musical world in which all of this could coexist: to imagine and gesture towards a music which is neither eastern nor western, neither romantic nor minimalist, neither tonal nor modal, neither melodically driven nor texturally driven.

Listen Here

Performed by Cantata Profana, Conducted by Jacob Ashworth

after shir hashirim - Score Here

Listen to more here.