Song of Songs (oratorio), B439

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Sometime in the spring of 1897 Dvořák considered writing a setting of the Old Testament book Song of Songs (also known as Song of Solomon) in the form of an oratorio. This collection of love songs from various eras extolling love between a man and a woman could only be included within the canon once the texts had been interpreted allegorically as a symbol of the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Church (or, according to the Jewish tradition, as an allegory of God’s love for the Children of Israel). Dvořák had acquired a copy of the recently published translation by Rudolf Dvořák (no relation), and the beauty of this poetry was said to have enchanted him. He even wrote a formal arrangement of the oratorio into his own copy of the poems but, in the end, he abandoned the composition – ostensibly due to the excessive eroticism of some of the verses.