Avshalom, b’ni, v’ni, (Absalom, my son, my son) for vocal solo and piano (2021) | 9′

Countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen and pianist Ronny Michael Greenberg performed the premiere September 2022 in San Francisco.

Program note by composer Gerald Cohen
The narration of the life of King David is one of the masterpieces of narration in the Hebrew Bible, with David presented as a complex and flawed human being, and with much emotional subtlety in the development of him and those around him. This scene comes at the climax of the story in II Samuel, of his son’s Avshalom’s revolt against him. David, on hearing of the victory against the rebellion, and the death of his son, is stricken with grief, and can do nothing but cry out “Avshalom, my son, my son! Would that I had died instead of you!”

This lament has had many musical settings, both solo and choral, over several centuries. In my setting, I decided to expand upon this famous line, and to include the dramatic context of the scene leading to David’s outcry.  The aria itself, of David’s outburst, is based on the melody to which the Book of Samuel is chanted in the synagogue when it it part of a biblical reading. However, that basic melody is really used as a taking-off place for ever more wild melismas as David expresses his anguish, and then moving to a final quiet desolate lament.

The composition was composed for countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen and pianist Ronny Michael Greeenberg, and given its premiere in San Francisco in September 2022.

Text and Translation:

V’David yoshev bein sh’nei hash’arim, vayelech hatzofe el gag hashaar el hachoma, vayisa et einav vayar, v’hine ish ratz l’vado.
Vayikra hatzofe vayaged lamelech, vayomer hamelech: “Im l’vado b’sora b’fiv.”
V’hine hakushi ba vayomer hakushi: “Yitbaser adoni hamelech ki sh’fatcha Adonai hayom miyad kol hakamim alecha.”
Vayomer hamelech el hakushi: “Hashalom lanaar l’Avshalom?” Vayomer hakushi: “Yihyu chanaar oyvey adoni hamelech, v’chol asher kamu alecha l’ra-ah.”
Vayirgaz hamelech, vayaal al aliyot hashaar vayevk, v’cho amar b’lechto:

“B’ni Avshalom, b’ni v’ni Avshalom! Mi yiten muti ani tachtecha, Avshalom, b’ni v’ni!”
V’hamelech laat et panav, vayizak hamelech kol gadol: B’ni Avshalom, Avshalom, b’ni v’ni!”

And David was sitting between the gates, and the lookout went up on the roof of the gate on the wall, and he raised his eyes and saw, and, look, a man was running alone.
And the lookout called and told the king, and the king said, “If he’s alone, there are tidings in his mouth.”
And, look, the Cushite had come and the Cushite said, “Let my lord the king receive these tidings—that the Lord has done for you justice against all who rose against you.”
And the king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the lad Avshalom?” And the Cushite said, “May the enemies of my lord the king be like the lad, and all who have risen against you for evil!”
And the king was shaken.  And he went up to the upper room over the gate and he wept, and thus he said as he went:

“My son, Avshalom! My son, my son, Avshalom! Would that I had died instead of you! Avshalom, my son, my son!”
And the king covered his face, and the king cried out in a loud voice, “My son, Avshalom! Avshalom, my son, my son!”