Born in New York City, William Schuman (1910-1992) dropped out of business school to pursue composition after hearing the New York Philharmonic for the first time. He became a central figure in New York’s cultural institutions, leaving his presidency of the Juilliard School to become the first director of Lincoln Center in 1962. All the while he was active as a composer. He received the inaugural Pulitzer Prize for music in 1943. He shared a fondness for wind music with his Juilliard contemporaries Vincent Persichetti and Peter Mennin, from which came many classic works for wind band.
When Jesus Wept is the second part of the New England Triptych, which begins with Be Glad Then America and concludes with Chester Overture. Like its triptych partners, When Jesus Wept was inspired by a William Billings hymn and was made first into a piece for orchestra (in 1956, with the band version transcribed by the composer in 1958). The hymn is a simple melody from the 1770 New England Psalm Singer that is intended to be performed as a round. It uses the following text:
When Jesus wept, the falling tear
In mercy flowed beyond all bound;
When Jesus groaned, a trembling fear
Seized all the guilty world around.
Schuman states the entire tune in a beautiful (and demanding) duet of euphonium and trumpet and proceeds to develop it at his own pace, pulling fragments from the melody and treating them in his own freely tonal, contrapuntal style. He does pause in the middle to present the tune as a round before returning to his more contemporary setting, ending on a note of uncertainty.
Hear the US Marine Band play Schuman’s band version:
Here is the Schuman’s original orchestral version. Aside from giving the piece almost entirely over to strings, the initial solos are stated by bassoon and oboe rather than euphonium and trumpet, and the whole thing begins in G minor rather than the F minor of the band version. The form is identical to the band version.
Now, a choral version that treats the tune as intended: it is stated in its entirety, then sung as a round:
Learn more at the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra Blog and the Wind Band Program Notes page. Schuman has bios on Wikipedia, his own official website, G. Schirmer,Theodore Presser, and Naxos. He also appeared as the mystery guest on a 1962 episode of the quiz show What’s My Line:
And William Billings has at least one giant column of a website devoted to him and his music.