For violin and piano and violoncello and piano
Selah is a difficult word to translate even though it appears over seventy times in the Psalms. To some it means a kind of Amen. We know that the Psalms were originally sung and accompanied by musical instruments. In that context Selah may indicate a pause for a musical interlude to enable singers and congregation to reflect on what had just been sung.
Here are two selahs composed to celebrate a Bar and Bat Mitzvah of my nephews by marriage. One is for violin with piano and is slow and serious. The other, for violoncello and piano is faster and more rhythmic.
Both are the result of studying one of the great hymns of the Jewish liturgy, the Adon Olam.This is a poem attributed to the poet Solomon ibn Gabirol (1031 – 1070). It is found in so many different musical settings that there’s now a whole website devoted to recordings in the many different traditions across the Jewish world.
For the composition of the meditative violin selah a live recording in 2010 by the Ensemble Baghdad-Jerusalem provided the inspiration, particularly the opening solo violin improvisation and the vocal ornamentations that follow as each performer sings in turn different verses of the Adon Olam.
The animated selah for violoncello is a kind of theme and variation backwards ending with a version of the Adon Olam by cellist Aaron Minsky’s Judaic Concert Suite.
In writing these pieces much has been revealed of the Jewish faith and its traditions, not least in reading the Authorised Daily Prayer Book. In his introduction the former Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks writes; the fact that the Jewish faith was written into prayers, rather than analysed in works of theology, is of immense significance. We do not analyse our faith: we pray it. We do not philosophise about truth: we sing it.
This isn’t that far from William Byrd’s statement that to sing is to pray twice.
Selah for violin and piano: full score [pdf]
Selah for violin and piano: violin part [pdf]
Selah for violoncello and piano: full score [pdf]
Selah for violoncello and piano: cello part [pdf]