Few composers can boast the stylistic range of Jonathan Newman (b. 1972), whose works cover everything from electronica to serious chamber music to concert pop. He trained at the Boston University School of the Arts and the Juilliard School, where he studied with John Corigliano and David Del Tredici. Newman was a member of the composer collective BCM International along with Eric Whitacre, Steven Bryant, and Jim Bonney. His music has been performed by orchestras, bands, and chamber groups around the USA and the world. He is currently the Director of Composition & Coordinator of New Music at Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Virginia.
Newman wrote Moon by Night in 2001. It was premiered by Eric Whitacre conducting the Sterling (Illinois) Municipal Symphony Band on June 27 of that year. It went on to win the 2003 National Band Association Merrill Jones Young Band Composition Contest. Newman’s program note, from his website, talks about its origin and inspiration:
Moon by Night is a modular work, as it is performable as a work for band and chorus, band alone, chorus and piano, or chorus a cappella. The text is the King James translation of Psalm 121, and the title is an image directly quoted from the psalm. The theme of the work is not sacred, however – it should be more like a hymn-like tone poem; a simple, straightforward chorale with long unending lines, where the text serves only to create an evocative mood.
The Eastern Wind Symphony plays the band version of Moon by Night in a live recording:
You can also hear the choir and band version on Newman’s website.
Newman is far from the first composer to set Psalm 121, also often known as “I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes,” to music. Here is a simple recitation of it:
Here’s what appears to be an Orthodox Jewish version in Hebrew:
Another contemporary choral version by Jake Runestad:
A bit of a contemporary oratorio by Adolphus Hailstork:
And an older Anglican version by Ernest Walker:
Newman’s treatment works especially well for band. His use of both harmony, which takes many fantastical turns, and instrumental color are especially noteworthy, and unequalled among the examples here.