Visions of Terror and Wonder

for Mezzo-Soprano and Orchestra

Richard Wernick

Performing Ensemble: Voice and Orchestra
Duration: 00:30:00
Publisher: Theodore Presser Company
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

The bulk of the work on "Visions of Terror and Wonder" was done in the latter half of 1975, and it was completed in early January 1976.

The eschatological visions contained in the scriptures of the three major Western religions are of striking similarity, and are obviously derived from common ancient sources. Each involves the terrifying idea of the complete obliteration of the universe, an act of purification carried to its ultimate limits, and the wonder of the immediate (in cosmic terms at least) recreation of a ?new heaven and a new earth.?

This piece was conceived of, and in its final form exists, on three different level: the ?mytho-poetic,? the metaphoric? and the ?political.?

Part of the fascination with these ?visions,? on the ?mytho-poetic? level, is the question of whether, like the Flood legends of various cultures, the phenomena described represent some very dim, but, nonetheless real, memory of events which actually took place. Nagging deep within our consciousness is the disturbing possibility supported in part by recent biblical and mythical interpretations, that the ?creation? of which we are a part, may not, in fact, be the first one at all.

On the second level the notion of the re-creation of the universe is viewed as a gigantic metaphor concerning the nature of art, perhaps best articulated by Martin Buber?s paraphrasing of the Baal Shem Tov:

"One should speak words as if the heavens were opened in them. And as if it were not so that you take the word in your mouth, but rather as if you entered the word?and it is as if he created heaven and earth and all worlds anew?for in each letter are the three: world, soul, and divinity. They rise and join and unite themselves, and they become the word, and the words unite themselves in God in genuine unity, since a man has set his soul in them, and worlds unite themselves and ascend, and the great rapture is born."

On the ?political? level is found the emphasis on one holy city, Jerusalem, as the focal point of the ?new? creation, directly attested to in two of the texts, and strongly implied in the third (if one takes into account its obvious derivation). This factor alone serves to lend an aura of immediacy to these ancient and poetic writings. The question of ?Jerusalem? is no longer strictly one of biblical interpretation and scholarly debate, but rather one of palpable and frightening proportions, and the present day ?vision? of Jerusalem as a focal point of the contemporary world is also what this piece is about.

The piece is cast in two parts. Part One, comprising the first two movements, is a setting of the Old Testament and Koran texts which project the events of the vision into the future; Part Two contains the third movement, the New Testament projection as viewed as having already taken place, and a brief coda-recitative setting one of the more beautiful views of Paradise as expressed in the Koran. The final words: ?Peace, peace? are sung in Arabic, Greek and Hebrew, the three languages of the visions.

Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by Aspen Music Festival with assistance from the National Endowment of the Arts.
Composition Date 1976
Orchestration Solo Mezzo-sop.; 4 4 4 4 - 4 3 3 1; 2Timp. 5Perc. Cel. Hp. Str.
Premiere 19th July, 1976. Jan DeGaetani, Aspen Festival Conference on Contemporary Music, conducted by Richard Dufallo.


1. The Vision from Judah (Isaiah, 65:17-18)
2. The Vision from Mecca (Koran: Surahs XXI:104, XIV:48)
3. The Vision of the End (Revelations, 20:1-2); Coda-Recitative: The Vision of Paradise (Koran: Surah LVI:11, 12, 25, 26)