Robson, Katherine Wells
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In 1859, Franz Liszt and Charles Valentin Alkan both composed settings of Psalm 137, “By the rivers of Babylon.” Though they were composed in the same year, Liszt’s Der 137 Psalm and Alkan’s Super flumina Babylonis would seem to have little in common. Der 137 Psalm is a two-part work scored for soloist and choir with accompaniment; Super flumina Babylonis is a three-part programmatic piano solo that leaves out the psalm’s text in the work itself. Both Liszt and Alkan bring to light in their respective settings of Psalm 137 the duality of hope and despair that is found in the psalm’s text, but in very different ways. In doing so, each composer reveals something about himself that is reflected in his respective setting; for this reason, both settings are exemplary Romantic works.