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ClassicsOnline Home » ADLER: Symphony No. 5 / Nuptial Scene / The Binding
Samuel Adler, one of America’s most respected composers, is equally known for his Judaic and general concert works. The selection of works on this CD embraces choral, cantorial, chamber, solo, and symphonic music, culminating in the Symphony No. 5, We Are the Echoes, which is based on Jewish poetry reflecting aspects of Jewish experience throughout history. The finale quotes the Jewish philosopher Heschel: “Now and then, high above me, I catch a glimpse of the faceless face of God.”
Symphony No. 5, "We Are the Echoes"
Nuptial Scene • The Binding (excerpt)
About the Composer
In that he has always devoted his gifts to Judaically related and general musical expression with equal emphasis, Samuel Adler (b. 1928) is a unique phenomenon among those established mainstream American composers whose Jewish identities have informed a part of their art. Adler has long been in the forefront of both worlds, not only artistically as a composer (his primary endeavor), but also intellectually and academically as a lecturer, educator, and author. Among 20th century American Jewish composers, perhaps only the life of Hugo Weisgall (1912–97) offers some parallels. Both had fathers who were learned émigré cantors in the Central European mold; both devoted substantial creativity to Jewish subjects while never circumscribing themselves parochially; both have been generally perceived as prominent in each field; both served on faculties of major universities and conservatories; and both established lifelong official affiliations with major American institutions of higher Jewish learning: Adler with the Reform movement, through his ongoing association with the School of Sacred Music of Hebrew Union College, and Weisgall with the Conservative movement and the Jewish Theological Seminary — as chairman of the faculty of its Cantors Institute and Seminary College of Jewish Music. But while Weisgall's oeuvre includes only one full-length synagogue service, Adler has written and continues to write prolifically for the Hebrew liturgy (in addition to his numerous nonliturgical Jewish works), and he has been a consistently active participant in the cantorial and Jewish musical infrastructure in America, especially — though not exclusively — within the Reform arena.
Adler was born in Mannheim, Germany, in the last years of the optimism and creative fervor of the Weimar Republic. His father, Chaim [Hugo Ch. ] Adler, was a highly respected cantor at Mannheim's chief Liberale synagogue, where the orientation was the mainstream German-Jewish synthesis of tradition and modernity — most closely approximating the American Conservative movement's path in many respects. Chaim Adler was also an active liturgical composer. Within a year after the nationally orchestrated pogrom known as Reichskristallnacht, in 1938, and the realization of doom for German Jewry's future, the family immigrated to America, where the elder Adler obtained a position as a cantor in Worcester, Massachusetts. There the young Samuel Adler (originally Hans) displayed his musical talents at an early age. He became his father's choir director when he was only thirteen and remained at that post until he began his university studies. During that early period he began composing liturgical settings, at first under his father's influence and soon developing his own style. At the same time, he benefited from exposure to the full gamut of Ashkenazi synagogue repertoire — particularly the western and Central European schools of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Adler holds degrees from Boston University (B.M.) and Harvard (M.A.). He studied composition with Aaron Copland, Paul Hindemith, Walter Piston, Hugo Norden, and Randall Thompson, and studied conducting with Serge Koussevitzky at the Berkshire Music Center. Following his discharge from the United States Army, he was appointed music director of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, a position he held from 1953 until 1966. He established an elaborate musical structure within that congregation, with five distinct choirs — four children's and youth choirs, and an adult volunteer chorus that reached a membership of ninety. Under his direction they performed the works of most of the important American, English, European, and Israeli synagogue composers. They also premiered works by Fromm, Freed, Schalit, Helfman, Saminsky, Binder, Jospe, Starer, Avni, Orgad, Haidu, Alexander, Ben Haim, and Hugo Adler. During this tenure Adler composed three complete Sabbath services (evening and morning) — B'sha'arei T'filla ; Shir Hadash ; and Shiru Ladonai — and companion pieces for the High Holy Days and the Three Festivals. He was also a professor of composition at the University of North Texas, and director of the Dallas Lyric Theater for four years.
After leaving Dallas to become professor of composition (later chairman of the department) at the Eastman School of Music, in Rochester, New York, Adler maintained his associations with both Reform and Conservative congregations throughout the United States, and he continued to devote considerable attention to composing for the synagogue and for Jewish secular subjects and texts. In 1969 he edited and published a two-volume anthology of music for the High Holy Days, Yamim Noraim, subsequently revised and expanded to accommodate new prayerbooks published by the Reform movement. In Rochester he also formed a fruitful association with Samuel Rosenbaum, the resident cantor. Cantor Rosenbaum's talent for creating lyrics, libretti, and artful Yiddish translations resulted in a number of collaborations with Adler on new cantatas: A Falling of Saints, Stars in the Dust, Ever Since Babylon, and Flames of Freedom, among others, in addition to many shorter works based on folk arrangements. Together with Rosenbaum, Adler also organized a series of monthly Havdala concerts (Saturday evening programs at the close of the Sabbath), presenting instrumental as well as vocal Jewish music, and he recorded ten albums of Jewish Holy Day music for Rochester's FM radio station WXXI that were later broadcast nationally for many years. During the early 1960s, concerned with cultivating taste among younger generations, Adler established — together with Rabbi Alexander Schindler (then executive vice president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Reform movement's lay organ) — a program of Jewish music study and performance at a Reform-affiliated summer camp in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
Adler's catalogue comprises more than 400 works in nearly all media, including six symphonies, twelve concerti, eight string quartets, five operas, many shorter orchestral works, pieces for wind ensembles and concert bands, other chamber music, and dozens of choral settings and songs — all in addition to his liturgical music. Some of these works are related to biblical and other Jewish historical subjects, and some deal specifically with Jewish experience, such as his fifth symphony, or his first cantata, The Vision of Isaiah, which formed his dissertation at Harvard. Adler has written more than sixty liturgical and Psalm settings, for a cappella as well as organ and instrumentally accompanied chorus. In addition, he has produced several collections of arrangements of Hebrew, Yiddish, and Ladino songs. His works have been performed by such major symphony orchestras as Cleveland, Dallas, Houston, St. Louis, New York, and Los Angeles ; by Europe's and Israel 's major orchestras; by many of the most prestigious chamber groups in the United States and abroad; and by choruses throughout the world.
Since retirement from Eastman (where he remains professor emeritus), Adler has taught on the faculties of Ithaca College, the University of Cincinnati, Bowling Green State University, the University of Missouri, and other such institutions, and he has served on the faculty of The Juilliard School since 1977. He has received commissions and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts; the Ford, Rockefeller, and Koussevitzky foundations; the city of Jerusalem ; the Pro Arte Quartet; and numerous other symphony orchestras and institutions. He is the recipient of many awards and prizes, including the Charles Ives Award, the Lillian Fairchild Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a MacDowell Fellowship for five seasons, the Distinguished Alumni Award from Boston University, and Eastman's Eisenhart Award for distinguished teaching. In 2001 he was elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has also conducted major orchestras across North America, Europe, the Far East, and Israel.
For more than fifteen years Adler served on the editorial board of Transcontinental Music Publishers (after it became a nonprofit affiliate of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations) and was its chairman for several years. He continues to be one of the most commissioned composers by American synagogues, and he has taught frequently over the past two decades at the School of Sacred Music of Hebrew Union College, offering numerous residencies and master classes and enjoying a special relationship with the various musical divisions of the Reform movement. He has also conducted many instructional sessions and workshops at conventions of both the Cantors Assembly and the American Conference of Cantors, bringing choral groups from Eastman to perform for cantorial delegates from around the world — performances that often included world premieres of Judaic works. Adler lectures regularly on Jewish and general musical topics at universities and synagogues throughout America, and he is a frequent scholar-in-residence at various congregations.
He is the author of three books: Choral Conducting (1971); Sight Singing (1979, 1997); and The Study of Orchestration (1982, 1989), reissued in an expanded edition together with CD-ROM format in 2002. He has published many articles in music journals and entries in reference works and encyclopedias. His articles on Jewish music have appeared in the Central Conference of American Rabbis journal; Jewish Music ; European Judaism ; Musica Judaica ; Diapason ; The American Choral Review ; and many others.
Neil W. Levin
Five Sephardic Choruses
In 1991 Adler and translator/lyricist Cantor Samuel Rosenbaum were commissioned by a consortium of more than twenty congregations to write a work commemorating both the expulsion of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492 and 1497 and the arrival of western Sephardi Jews in North America in 1654. The lengthy work that emerged was entitled Ever Since Babylon, and a number of choruses who performed it later asked Adler to extract portions from the oratorio that could be sung as a suite. The resulting work is Five Sephardic Choruses (utilizing the Greek form of the word, rather than the Hebrew Sephardi, although the latter has become more common in recent years). Not all five melodies, however, are strictly Sephardi — i.e., part of the heritage of Jews whose ancestry extends to pre-expulsion Spain — as the Sephardi categorization has sometimes been extended loosely and simply to embrace non-Ashkenazi traditions of other eastern Mediterranean, western and central Asian, and Arabic Jews.
Yom gila is a Sephardi tune ( Yom gila yavo ), sung on the holyday simhat torah, which joyfully celebrates the Torah, or divine teaching, immediately following the Festival of Sukkot. It is known in several variants throughout the Sephardi world, and scholars have transcribed some of those variants from communities such as Jerusalem and Salonika.
Ya ribbon olam is one of the Sabbath z'mirot — hymns traditionally sung at the table during or after the festive Sabbath meals. The text is by Israel Najara (c.1555–c.1628), but numerous tunes exist in Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and other traditions.
The melody of Ein keloheinu in this suite comes from the Amsterdam — or western — Sephardi tradition. In the form used by Adler here, it is typical of the dignity and solemnity of many of the hymn tunes of that aggregate community. In Ashkenazi ritual, this text, which is attributed to mystical sources, occurs toward the end of the morning service on Sabbaths and other holy days. According to several liturgical sources and authorities, it was designated for that place in the services in order — by virtue of its acrostic — to bring the total number of b'rakhot (benedictions) in the just-completed amida (the core set of prayers and b'rakhot said standing) to the daily number of nineteen from their abbreviated number of seven on Sabbaths and Festivals. According to that line of reasoning, the acrostic functions as a reference to those missing b'rakhot, serving as a "substitute". In Yemenite and Sephardi rituals (in which the text contains some variations), ein keloheinu is also included on weekdays.
Adon olam is most widely known as a concluding hymn of Sabbath and other holy day morning services and can also be sung at the conclusion of those evening services — which some authorities suggest was its original function. (The same poem is also part of the preliminary morning liturgy in traditional contexts.) The poem, which gives evidence of Arabic meter that is frequently found in medieval Spanish-Hebrew poetry, is thought to date to the 11th or 12th century. It has been attributed to various poets of that period, including Solomon Ibn Gabirol. Although there is no universal agreement concerning Gabirol's authorship, those who lean toward that conclusion point to his philosophical poem Keter malkhut (Royal Crown), where God is addressed in terms similar to the overall theme of adon olam. The musical version upon which Adler's piece is based is from Sephardi tradition.
Zamm'ri li is apparently Yemenite in origin, or by tradition. Although it does not appear in any diwan (poetry compendium) of the Yemenite Jews, its text refers to "the joy of Yemen ", and the tune is typically Yemenite in character. Its Yemenite provenance is further supported by the fact that its text is a paraphrase of another, similarly known Yemenite song, Sapperi li yona. The first known version appears in an obscure 1932 Palestinian Hebrew songster, Shirei ha'aretz, published by Menashe Ravina (Rabinovitz). The refrain, ya'alu na (or, ya'alu ya'alu in some variants) tziyon mizrah a (onward to Zion ), has obvious Zionist significance and is therefore assumed to have been added later to the original two lines. The song, which gained substantial popularity in Israel, was subsequently published in various songsters for Israeli schools. Its most recent setting is a choral arrangement by the Israeli composer Sergiu Shapira, published in Tel Aviv in 1997.
(Note by Samuel Adler)
Nuptial Scene was commissioned by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in cooperation with the city of Jerusalem for the celebration of the fourth "Testimonium", a festival to preserve Jewish heritage. The work was written in September 1975 and premiered in Jerusalem in February 1976 with the Jerusalem Symphony, Juan Pablo Izquierdo conducting and Adi Etzion as soloist. It is dedicated to Recha Freier, the originator and prime mover of the festival.
Nuptial Scene is based on a simple medieval poem of prenuptial instruction. Part of it is in Catalan and part in Hebrew. The poem originated in Catalonia, where a highly developed Jewish community existed until the expulsion of 1492. A mother is instructing her daughter in the ways and strategies of marriage and rejoicing with a "new song" for a "new bride".
When I initially planned the setting of this lovely poem, I realized that the age of the daughter would be about twelve, for girls in that historical period were married at puberty. This set in motion a scheme for the composition, since my oldest daughter was thirteen at that time, and I used her psyche to give me direction. When a girl of twelve or thirteen thinks of a wedding, she is completely captivated by its frills — the dress, the party, the dancing. In her imagination, the reality of a husband or any kind of domestic responsibility would be nonexistent. Therefore, during the mother's ardent pleas, instructions, admonitions, and even innuendos, the daughter's mind wanders and dreams of dancing. Musically, the rather straight, somber rhythm and melody of the song are interrupted by an independent, faster dance speed of the bongos and by scattered fragments of an actual medieval Spanish-Jewish dance. At the point where the mother speaks of sensuous marital problems, she herself becomes excited, and in a nostalgic, dreamlike spirit — with the use of improvised melodic lines for which only the gestural outlines are given — she goes into a kind of rapturous trance. The daughter, however, seems unmoved, and she falls asleep. The mother calms down, puts her head on the daughter's shoulder, and quietly muses, then also closes her eyes.
The Binding (excerpt)
An Oratorio in Three Parts
for soli, chorus, and orchestra
[Editor's Note: The term akeda (binding), or akedat yitzhak (the binding of Isaac [for sacrifice]) refers to the biblical incident (Genesis 22:1–19) wherein God tests Abraham's faith by instructing him to prepare his son, Isaac, for ritual sacrifice. This story constitutes one of the central narratives in Judaism, both because it demonstrates Abraham's worthiness to be the founder of the Israelite people — through his unquestioning faith in God and His wisdom — and because its conclusion serves as an unequivocal admonishment against the practice, under any circumstances, of human sacrifice. At the same time, the narrative also illustrates Isaac's faith and devotion as the second Jewish patriarch. The akedat yitzhak is therefore frequently cited in the Hebrew liturgy. On Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, when this biblical portion is read, the sounding of the shofar — the ram's horn — is also, among other things, a reminder of the ram that appeared out of the thicket for sacrifice in place of Isaac. Many commentaries and interpretations of this story throughout the centuries, including the Talmud, suggest that the divine request was only "to prepare Isaac for sacrifice" as a test — hence the binding — but not necessarily to go through with the deed. —NWL]
(Note by Samuel Adler:)
In early 1937, my father, the cantor at Mannheim 's Liberale synagogue and a highly regarded Judaic and liturgical composer in Germany, wrote an oratorio entitled Akedah. It was to have its premiere in Stuttgart in the spring of 1938. Its text was based on both the biblical story of the binding of Isaac and on postbiblical literature related to the subject. In the oratorio's libretto, there was an emphasis on Isaac as a symbol or metaphor for the entire people of Israel being persecuted as an "innocent sacrifice". Everyone involved in the performance was concerned lest the Nazi party officials read the libretto too carefully and realize its contemporary significance. Indeed, the day before the dress rehearsal, a group of storm troopers entered the hall and confiscated all the scores and parts. We saved one piano score and one full score and brought these with us to the United States when we emigrated as a family. My father eventually rewrote nearly all the oratorios he had composed in Germany, but he died before he had a chance to revise this one.
When I was about to leave my professional positions in Dallas, in 1966, Temple Emanu-El, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and the Dallas Chamber Music Society commissioned me to write a work for performance in May 1967. I chose to use most of my father's Akedah text and to base my own work on that seminal story. But I asked my friend Rabbi Albert Freelander — then in residence in London — to write an English libretto that would also be based on both biblical and postbiblical sources. It emerged in three parts. The first is devoted to the Call to Abraham and Abraham's answer. It also includes the drama of Abraham and Isaac's journey to Mount Moriah, leaving their servants at the base camp and ascending to the top by themselves. The second part (featured in this recording) is based on Talmudic and Midrashic sources. Satan appears to both Abraham and Isaac to challenge the validity of Abraham's commitment. To differentiate Satan from Abraham and Isaac in musical terms, I have written his part strictly according to twelve-tone serial technique. This greatly contrasts the music associated with Satan with that of the other two characters, giving it a jagged and angular contour. Isaac may be sung by a boy soprano or a young woman. Throughout this second part, the orchestra, with brass and percussion juxtaposed against the more mellow sounds of strings and woodwinds, mirrors the angular parameter as well as the calmer moments. The final part addressed the fact that though Isaac was spared, our own human proclivity to understand the word of God only conventionally, according to our own interpretations, will always lead to the sacrifice of our sons and daughters — until we try humbly to read God's word in a broader context. This work nonetheless concludes on a very optimistic note.
Selections from Samuel Adler's Synagogue Music
El melekh yoshev is one of the principal supplications of the s'lihot, or penitential, liturgy, which is recited throughout Yom Kippur and daily during the s'lihot period preceding Rosh Hashana and leading up to Yom Kippur. The text belongs to the oldest portion of s'lihot liturgy, thought to date to the Babylonian and Talmudic period (and perhaps known then in Palestine as well). It imagines God as the omnipotent King who sits on a "throne fashioned out of mercy" — and who thus, by His very nature and essence, pardons His people according to the “thirteen attributes of God's mercy". Those are contained within the text as well. Adler wrote this setting as part of a suite of High Holy Day liturgical pieces, entitled Hinei Yom Hadin (Behold, the Day of Judgment!). In this one, his aim was to mirror the typical undertone of communal prayer recitation in orthodox and traditional synagogues. "I have always been fascinated by the sound of a praying congregation", noted the composer, "when everyone prays and recites at his own pace, typically in a murmuring 'singsong' that can appear to be mumbling. I have tried to simulate that effect at the beginning of this piece, with the chorus intoning the opening words at various speeds before the cantor's entrance. This is a very dramatic text, drawing an awesome picture of God as He judges each individual, yet always with mercy; therefore, I have tried to create a tension in the music, which is only partially resolved at the end in the prayer".
The setting here for cantor and organ of the evening prayer Ahavat olam, which refers to God's everlasting love for the House of Israel and His gift of laws by which to live, is taken from Adler's complete Sabbath eve service, Shiru Ladonai, which was written during the 1960s while he was music director at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas. The Reform movement was then beginning to envision the inclusion of women as officially invested cantors (the first female cantor was invested by the School of Sacred Music of Hebrew Union College in 1975). But Adler, along with many other composers and choirmasters, was quick to realize that most cantorial settings — even those without extended virtuoso tenor cantorial idioms — were more suitable for male voices. In this service, therefore, Adler paid special attention to writing settings that would be at least equally appropriate for female and male solo voices.
While ahavat olam is recited at every evening service including weekdays, this setting is specifically for Sabbath eve. It is therefore based on the particular Ashkenazi prayer mode for that service, with its formulaic cadence at the conclusion and the b'rakha (benediction).
The setting here of Sim shalom, the prayer for peace toward the end of traditional morning and afternoon services, is also from Adler's complete Sabbath eve service, Shiru Ladonai. Like his Ahavat olam in that service, this setting was written for either female or male cantor. Adler did not intend the piece exclusively for Jewish worship services, however. "This text has a more universal connotation for me", he has written. "It is intended to be a meditation on peace and on the ecstasy of the vision of all people living together in harmony."
The liturgical settings Bar'khu, Sh'ma yisra'el, V'ahavta, and Mi khamokha were commissioned by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations to celebrate the U.S.A. Bicentennial in 1976 and were premiered at the UAHC convention that same year.
Symphony No. 5
(Note by Michael Winesanker)
Symphony No. 5, subtitled We Are the Echoes, was begun in Rochester in October 1974 and completed in Vienna in February 1975. In five movements, the symphony calls for a large orchestra and soprano soloist. It is based on Jewish poetry that reflects aspects of Jewish experience throughout history. The first movement is centered around a German poem, "We Go", by Karl Wolfskehl, translated by Valhope and Morwitz. It tells of the hunted, hounded, wandering Jew through the ages. The voice relates the dreadful tale of endless persecution, with the orchestra lending dramatic urgency by its driving pace in a relentless perpetual motion. The feared "knock at the door", which has so often signified death, begins the movement, and reminders of it pervade the entire symphony.
"Even During War", by the American poet Muriel Rukeyser, serves as text and inspiration for the music of the second movement. It speaks of hope and peace in the face of hardship and gloom. In ternary form, the two outer segments are lyrical and reflective in mood, while the middle portion is in a contrasting fast tempo.
The source of the third movement is a short poem by James Oppenheimer titled "The Future". It mirrors the Jews' "mission" in a conversation between a man and a stranger (the Future) knocking at the door. The demand for complete dedication is acknowledged by the man's eventual resolve "to follow unquestioningly the unknown". There are special orchestral effects in winds and strings, including glissandi, all calculated to capture the weird sense of mystery as backdrop to the dialogue. The "hard knocks at the door which constantly summon man" are heard throughout the movement.
The symphony takes its subtitle from the poem on which the fourth movement is based. "We Are the Echoes" was written by Carol Adler, former wife of the composer. She writes of the burdens the Jew must bear, of the memory of his unfortunate past and the dream of a better future. But the problems persist; the echoes remain; the questions are unresolved. In the music we hear motives of Hebraic chant introduced in turn by various instruments. At one point there is a free improvisatory (aleatoric) passage for orchestra, culminating in the soloist's plea, "Take away your echoes". Yet the traditional echoes endure.
The text of the finale is an English translation of a Yiddish poem by philosopher and theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907–1972). "God Follows Me Everywhere" ( Got geyt mir nokh umetum ) reflects man's personal involvement with God. Musically, it resembles the second movement — slow and singing at first, then fast and fiery, at the close calm and quiet, with the words "Now and then, high above me, I catch a glimpse of the faceless face of God".
(Note by Samuel Adler:)
The special Jewish experience — through its centuries of struggle both intellectually and physically, with its many vicissitudes as well as victories — is reflected in the thoughts of the chosen poems: the Jewish idea of a personal relationship between man and his God; the burning conviction or even command that the Jews' mission on earth is to be "a light unto the nations"; the "nagging conscience" that never lets him rest but calls him to continuous service to all mankind; as well as the ever-present hope and faith that basically man is good and "will overcome", so that in the end of days all men will be brothers. With these ideas the text was gathered and the symphony fashioned.
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ADLER: Symphony No. 5 / Nuptial Scene / The Bindin...