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Psalm 39


I composed my setting of the thirty-ninth Psalm during the summer of 1979, mainly in Jackson, Wyoming, and in San Francisco, where it was completed. The work was jointly commissioned by Richard Frisch and David Starobin, and reflects my appreciation for these two artists. The instrument and voice, therefore, are co-equal: for while the voice is the bearer of the text, the guitar offers answers, commentaries, and interludes – instrumental "translations" of the words.

PSALM THIRTY-NINE uses Archbishop Cranmer's translation (from the Book of Common Prayer), as I find it more succinct than the version to be found in King James. It speaks of a fitting awareness of human vanity, a word against our perennial and contemporaneously exaggerated hubris. The text is set in a straightforward naturalistic manner, and this reflects my impatience with various recent modes of word-setting in which comprehension is rendered difficult through fragmentation of the words.

-CW, 6 October 1979