Kohelet: A Cantata in Five Movements
Kohelet ("The Teacher") is an extended choral work in five movements that I composed for the Washington Master Chorale, Santa Clara Chorale and Santa Clara University Concert Choir. Sung in Hebrew, it is scored for performance by divisi choral forces (SATB), bass-baritone and soprano soloists, and orchestra, consisting of 3 trumpets in B flat, 2 trombones, bass trombone, timpani, percussion (3 players), 2 harps, and strings.
“Henry Dehlinger is premiering musical magic”
There is also a reduced orchestration for 2 trumpets in C, 2 horns in F, bass trombone, timpani, percussion (1 player), harp, and organ (9 players total). The original full scoring lends itself well to the reduction. By including some of the original instruments, the reduction is conveyed with little loss of variety and color. I think some of the hidden details may even be more apparent.
Plus, who can resist the sound of an organ in a sacred work?
The Third Movement of Kohelet, Shir Hashirim ("Song of Songs"), is also available separately for recital performance by baritone and soprano soloists with piano accompaniment. I'm especially delighted by its growing popularity as a love duet.
I started work on Kohelet early in 2018. By spring, I had sketched out the first and third movements. At a private salon concert in late April in Warrenton, Virginia, I presented the third movement love duet with my friends Kerry Wilkerson and Metropolitan Opera soprano Danielle Talamantes, for whose voices I penned the bass-baritone and soprano solo parts, respectively.
It was kismet! Among the guests was choral conductor Thomas Colohan, artistic director of the Washington Master Chorale in Washington, DC. Tom and I instantly became friends. It turns out we were both connected to Santa Clara University, my alma mater in Northern California where for eight years Tom served on the music faculty as director of choral activities. While at Santa Clara, Tom also served as artistic director of the Santa Clara Chorale.
Our friendship became an artistic collaboration when Tom suggested the Washington Master Chorale and Santa Clara Chorale, led by choral conductor Scot Hanna-Weir, mount the first two performances of Kohelet. Delighted Kohelet had a home, I went straight back to work. I completed the cantata November 2019.
“Kohelet combines Biblical Hebrew verse with lush, modal melodies, energetic meters and colorful harmonic textures.”
— Henry Dehlinger, composer
Kohelet combines Biblical Hebrew verse with lush, modal melodies, energetic meters and colorful harmonic textures. I arranged the text from the Book of Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs in the original Hebrew. As it happens, my wife Lauren—to whom I lovingly dedicate this work—is a Hebrew speaker and linguist by training (a lawyer by profession), so she kindly transliterated the Hebrew text for me.
One of twenty-four books of the Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible, Ecclesiastes is also one of the canonical Wisdom Books in the Old Testament of most Christian denominations. The word, Ecclesiastes, is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word, Kohelet, which means “one who gathers others together” or, more commonly, “teacher.” The bass-baritone soloist sings the part of the Kohelet—King Solomon according to tradition—while the soprano soloist sings the part of his expectant bride in the third movement love duet adapted from Song of Songs.
I drew my inspiration for Kohelet, in part, from Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, a work I performed often as a boy singer with the San Francisco Boys Chorus. Like Chichester Psalms, Kohelet is an ecumenical blend of Judaic antiphonal singing and Christian choral tradition. My original vision was for it to be a Solomonic sequel to the Davidic pslams.
“Kohelet is an examination of the age-old question about the meaning of life.”
— Henry Dehlinger, composer
For me, Kohelet is an examination of the age-old question about the meaning of life. Its wise sayings are embedded in the popular consciousness: Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. There is nothing new under the sun. For everything there is a season, and The race is not to the swift.
Some say it is hard to tell whether Kohelet is life-affirming or pessimistic. One thing is for sure, the narrator says it is more important to live wisely and enjoy the simple pleasures of life within a morally grounded framework than to wantonly pursue wealth, fame or power. “Chasing after the wind,” he calls it. He admonishes us to look at joy as a state of inner being so that we remain steady in the face of life’s challenges.
I. Hakol Havel (All is Vanity)
II. La'kol Zman (For Everything a Season)
III. Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs)
IV. Divrei Chachamim (Wisdom of the Sages)
V. Sof Davar (The Last Word)