About this work
Based on hymn tunes by early American composer William Billings (1746-1800), William Schuman's New England Triptych (1956) is less a variation on its source material than a colorful impression of Billings' hardy musical spirit. The first of these three orchestral tone poems, "Be Glad Then, America," is marked by spirited forward momentum, a brief fugal section, and a concluding reference to the "shout and rejoice" passage in Billings' original. "When Jesus Wept" uses its source material as a point of departure for an extended, lyrically sad round with embellishments and melodic extensions. "Chester" is adapted from the hymn used as a marching song by the Continental Army. An appropriately hymnlike beginning changes into a texture of almost improvisatory running lines which eventually become accompaniment to a return of the march tune in the brass. The effect of the New England Triptych is such that it has become the most popular of Schuman's works and a signature example of the "Americana" style that pervaded American music from the 1930s to the 1950s.