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Nuptial Scene was commissioned by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in cooperation with the city of Jerusalem for the celebration of the fourth “Testimonium,” a festival to preserve Jewish heritage. The work was written in September 1975 and premiered in Jerusalem in February 1976 with the Jerusalem Symphony, Juan Pablo Izquierdo conducting and Adi Etzion as soloist. It is dedicated to Recha Freier, the originator and prime mover of the festival.
Nuptial Scene is based on a simple medieval poem of prenuptial instruction. Part of it is in Catalan and part in Hebrew. The poem originated in Catalonia, where a highly developed Jewish community existed until the expulsion of 1492. A mother is instructing her daughter in the ways and strategies of marriage and rejoicing with a “new song” for a “new bride.”
When I initially planned the setting of this lovely poem, I realized that the age of the daughter would be about twelve, for girls in that historical period were married at puberty. This set in motion a scheme for the composition, since my oldest daughter was thirteen at that time, and I used her psyche to give me direction. When a girl of twelve or thirteen thinks of a wedding, she is completely captivated by its frills—the dress, the party, the dancing. In her imagination, the reality of a husband or any kind of domestic responsibility would be nonexistent. Therefore, during the mother’s ardent pleas, instructions, admonitions, and even innuendos, the daughter’s mind wanders and dreams of dancing. Musically, the rather straight, somber rhythm and melody of the song are interrupted by an independent, faster dance speed of the bongos and by scattered fragments of an actual medieval Spanish-Jewish dance. At the point where the mother speaks of sensuous marital problems, she herself becomes excited, and in a nostalgic, dreamlike spirit—with the use of improvised melodic lines for which only the gestural outlines are given—she goes into a kind of rapturous trance. The daughter, however, seems unmoved, and she falls asleep. The mother calms down, puts her head on the daughter’s shoulder, and quietly muses, then also closes her eyes.