When the Nazis invaded Denmark in 1940 Koppel, a Jew,
immediately evacuated to Sweden. The post-War return to his native land
coupled with the unfolding of the true nature and extent of the horrors
perpetrated on the Jews and many other peoples drove Koppel back to
the Old Testament. Three works, all from 1949, resulted: Three Psalms
of David for tenor, choirs and orchestra and two song cycles - Five
Biblical Songs and Four Love Songs from the Canticles of Solomon.
Moses was of the same stream though much longer
in gestation. It is contemporary with Britten's War Requiem,
Holmboe's Nietzsche Requiem, Franz Reizenstein’s Genesis and
Peter Racine Fricker's A Vision of Judgement. Foreboding,
cruelty and vengeance are to the fore. The notes to this CD refer to
an indebtedness to Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms and I would
It will not surprise you that Koppel’s descriptions
of hellish apocalypse also have the quality of Franz Schmidt's choral
writing for The Book with Seven Seals though the tonality is
strained. The music also put me in mind of Wilfred Josephs’ music for
The Great War. Listen to the grim desolation of a pocked and
cratered landscape. The evocative track 9 (‘the smoke thereof ascended
as the smoke of a fire’) induces a frisson. Track 4 is descriptive of
the Creation and the Fall and is charged with foreboding. This is a
work in which you will look for tenderness and reassurance in vain.
The present recording represents the work's second
performance; the first having taken place on 21 October 1965. That premiere
was conducted by Miltiades Caridis and again Kurt Westi was the tenor.
Anders Koppel reminds us in his extensive notes that just after Moses
the composer wrote a further oratorio, Requiem, with texts from
Old and New Testaments. This time he used German attempting to reach
a form of reconciliation with the language then so freshly associated
with invasion, repression and pogrom.
Moses is laid out in two main parts. Each is
sub-divided into three episodes thus:
1. The Creation, The Fall
2. The Trial of Abraham by God
3. Songs of the Israelites and Moses to the Lord, the
Stone Tables, the Golden Calf
4. Lament of the Israelites in the Desert, Prophecy
of the Promised Land
5. The Curse and the Blessing of Moses
6. The Song of Moses, the Praise of the Lord after
the Funeral Music, Hallelujah
After so much stony lamentation and wretched violence
the ascent towards jubilation is a steep one and charted only in the
last two tracks. When we reach it this is the jubilation of a people
who have had to teach themselves joy and whose natural bent is towards
grief. Even their alleluias (unlike those in Hilding Rosenberg's Symphony
No 4 Johannes Uppenbarelse) are laden with the cargoes of dismal
grief and violence. At the end we seem to look out on some devastated.
The stricken death bells of Holst's Saturn seem to be a parallel but
without the panic.
The booklet is in Danish, English and German and the
libretto (drawn from the Psalms, Deuteronomy, Numbers, Exodus and Genesis)
is laid out in typically exemplary fashion with sung text side by side
with translations. The CD is laid out in 23 tracks which makes navigation
and study extremely easy.