The composer Antony Pitts was inspired to begin sketching an oratorio that would tell, simply but powerfully, the Biblical story of Jerusalem – to audiences familiar with both great classical oratorios and popular musicals, and regardless of denomination or religious background, cultural perspective or political viewpoint.  The result is an oratorio-musical with a libretto based on texts from the Tanakh (the “Old” Testament) laid out in a narrative order, and with the ancient Hebrew names for familiar Biblical characters and places (e.g. Avraham) – thus the double-barrelled title Jerusalem-Yerushalayim.  The Biblical story of the city is told through twelve windows or snapshots in which Jerusalem is either the subject or the background; mirroring the four quarters of Jerusalem’s ‘Old City’, these are divided into four sections of three movements: the city in patriarchal times; the city as the capital of Israel and then of Judah up to its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar in 586BC; the city rebuilt under occupation until its destruction by the Romans in 70AD; the city as prefigured by prophets and unfolded in history; and a coda looking forward to Isaiah’s vision of the wolf living together with the lamb.


The libretto was compiled by the composer and is drawn as directly as possible, given the limitations of English translation and the musical setting itself, from Biblical texts – texts which are both historical and prophetic, full of archetypes and resonances, and are at the same time about real people with their dreams, tragedies, and hopes.  The music is new, but has strong historical echoes including familiar Western musical references such as Tallis’s Lamentations, Purcell’s My Beloved spake, Handel’s Zadok the Priest, and Parry’s I was glad – as well as various resonances from far outside the classical canon.  In terms of practicality and approachability, and even structure, Jerusalem-Yerushalayim is modelled on Handel’s Messiah, and designed for widespread use: by professional vocal ensembles or amateur choirs, or a mix of both – with SATB soloists and flexible accompaniment.


Unusually, the first part of the oratorio to be completed was the conclusion – the choral coda entitled The Peace of Jerusalem.  It was premiered by the Choir of London, conductor Jeremy Summerly, in Israel in April 2007, and has since had performances in the UK by TONUS PEREGRINUS at the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music, by the Elysian Singers under the direction of the composer in the City of London, and by The Song Company in Australia in 2017.  TONUS PEREGRINUS recorded the coda for Hyperion on an album called Alpha and Omega, and in June 2008 gave the world premiere of the complete oratorio at Opera Fringe in Down Cathedral, Downpatrick, Northern Ireland – to a standing ovation.  The revised and expanded version of the oratorio was recorded in October 2011, followed by the U.S. premiere in May 2012 which was given by Choral Arts Cleveland under conductor Martin Kessler – in the presence of the composer.


the city

The eyes of the world today are on Jerusalem.  More than any other city, Jerusalem has captured hearts and imaginations around the world and continues to reflect the turbulent emotions of our troubled times.  The city of Jerusalem has a complex, multi-layered history stretching back thousands of years, and continues today to be the literal and symbolic focus of many, often conflicting, aspirations.  Jerusalem – placed at the centre of the world on mediaeval maps – a crossroads between Asia, Europe, and Africa.  Jerusalem – occupied by Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, Ottomans, British etc.  Jerusalem – the scene of central events in Jewish history and in the Christian gospel – and now home to Jewish, Christian, and Islamic holy sites.  While today’s media story is of division and hopelessness, the Bible tells an extraordinary story with a much longer perspective – a story of incredible hope that begins in Genesis with the wanderings of Abraham, and extends from these Semitic roots to a vision of lasting peace for all people, starting in Jerusalem.


the story

The oratorio begins with a sung prelude tracing Abra(ha)m’s genealogy all the way from Adam, thus linking the destiny of Jerusalem with the whole human race.  The first actual mention of the city comes later in Genesis with the half of the name that still carries the meaning “peace” (shalom in Hebrew, salaam in Arabic) and with the mysterious and symbolic figure of Malki-Tzedek (Melchizedek) as its priest-king.


…the four-note motif of the patriarchs’ names morphs into the ‘wandering’ motif and then the ‘promise’ theme – both of which are associated with Abram...

Abram’s name is changed to Abraham – from “exalted father” to “father of many (nations)”, and he is promised a son in his old age, Isaac – whose name means “laughter”.  But Abraham is asked to sacrifice him.


…the laughter in the music: an upside-down version of the first three notes of the ‘sacrifice’ theme...

The family of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, migrated to Egypt during a famine; but over time the children of Israel (as Jacob was also known) became enslaved.  Miraculously delivered after several hundred years, with Moses leading them on the way to the “promised land”, they have celebrated the night of the Passover ever since.


…the ‘thanksgiving’ chant used for Psalm 136 evolves through movements 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, the end of 11, 12…

Having captured the stronghold of Zion from the Jebusites some time previously, King David dances wildly as the Ark of the Covenant is brought into the city.  Later he orders a (forbidden) census; the punishment is a plague which is only halted on the threshing-floor of Araunah (Ornan) the Jebusite – where David sets up an altar.


…the first complete appearance of the ‘Jerusalem’ theme, and echoes of a well-known Handel anthem...

Although his father – as a man of war – is not allowed to build the Temple, King Solomon does so on the same threshing-floor and in the very area where Abraham had been ready to sacrifice his son Isaac nearly a thousand years earlier.


…as well as strong echoes of Parry, Weelkes, and Zadok the Priest, the ‘king’ motif grows into the first hints of the ‘Messiah’ theme...

Even in the days of Solomon decay sets in, and after several centuries of warnings (by, among others, Jeremiah and Ezekiel) Jerusalem is besieged, captured, and plundered by Nebuchadnezzar.


…the ‘king’ motif is repeated as a ground bass underneath the pleading and sighing reminiscent of Tallis’s and White’s settings of Jeremiah’s Lamentations...

Daniel is one of those taken captive to Babylon; towards the end of his life, as he is specifically praying for the city and his people, the angel Gabriel announces a timetable of the city’s restoration, the coming of the anointed One – the Messiah, and the subsequent further destruction of the city.


…the first appearance of two longer melodies associated with exile and with intercession – the ‘king’ motif in sackcloth and ashes – and then the seventy times seven of the title counted out literally in a harmonic dance...

Cyrus, king of Persia, has been personally named by earlier prophets as the one who will issue a decree to rebuild the Temple – the first of several decrees for the restoration of the city (one of which seems to be the starting-point for Gabriel’s seventy “weeks” of years). Nehemiah returns from exile...


…midway through this movement the transfiguration from longing and darkness to unalloyed thanksgiving and light...

Hoshanna means “save” and is both a cry for help and an acclamation.  Many of the Messianic prophecies of salvation in the Old Testament refer to Jerusalem, and in due course the city witnesses their fulfilment.


…within the outer frame of two hymn quotations many different themes and motifs come together, culminating in a combination of ‘king’ and ‘sacrifice’ first heard at the end of the first movement...

Jerusalem has suffered many scatterings of its inhabitants (as the prophet Micah had warned), the longest and most desolate diaspora beginning with the sack of the city by the Romans in 70AD.


…the return of Daniel’s melodies juxtaposed with a tune expressing thanksgiving even in great suffering...

Ezekiel’s vision of life breathed into a valley of dry bones speaks both of resurrection and of restoration. Hallelujah!


…a transformed version of the ‘sacrifice’ theme, and then the ‘promise’ theme is re-invigorated into a furious dance... and a Halleluyah chorus – a quodlibet over three simple chords from the second movement...

Elijah prays... Famous words about the nations living united in peace and harmony are found alongside visions of a time when Jerusalem becomes a stumbling-block for the world: only God can give her and all of us the peace that passes all understanding. Shout for joy!





…a combination of melodies by Purcell, Handel, and Dunstaple, followed by a recapitulation of the principal motifs and themes in contrasted sections, capped by an extended coda in which lies hidden a golden melody...


the people

The story of Jerusalem is told through the words of some very famous Biblical characters.

Melchizedek (sung by Nathan Vale – tenor)

Abraham (sung by Alex Knight – bass)

Isaac (sung by Raphael Pitts – treble)

Jacob (sung by Edan Umrigar – treble)

Moses (sung by Francis Brett – bass)

David (sung by Benedict Hymas – tenor)

Solomon (sung by Alexander Hickey – tenor)

Jeremiah (sung by Lisa Beckley – soprano)

Ezekiel (sung by Kathryn Knight – alto)

Daniel (sung by Alexander L’Estrange – countertenor)

Gabriel (sung by Joanna Forbes L’Estrange – soprano)

Cyrus, Darius, Artaxerxes (sung by Nick Flower – bass)

Nehemiah (sung by Robin Blaze – countertenor)

Micah (sung by Richard Eteson – tenor)

Elijah (sung by Rebecca Hickey – soprano)


the words

The libretto was compiled by the composer and is drawn as directly as possible, given the limitations of English translation and the musical setting itself, from Biblical texts – texts which are both historical and prophetic, full of archetypes and resonances, and are at the same time about real people with their dreams, tragedies, and hopes.  READ THE LIBRETTO

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Artwork: Het nieuwe Jeruzalem by Blandine van Noordt-Grauer.  Photographs: Ian Dingle.