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Part I 12:56
Part II 16:04
 

Liner Notes

The title of Samuel Adler’s 1986 oratorio, Choose Life, is drawn from the familiar, positive, and life-mandating injunction contained in the Torah. This appears as part of the conclusion of Moses’ Third Discourse to the people toward the end of the Book of Deuteronomy, where he transmits, in the form of a summation of the Torah’s central message and teachings, the Divine counsel to adhere to those teachings for the sake of life. It is an exhortation to the Israelites—and through them to all humanity—to exercise God’s gift of human free will for the good—viz., for individual as well as collective life:

See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil, in that I command you this day to love adonai [God], your Lord, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His ordinances; then you shall live and multiply, and adonai [God], your Lord, shall bless you in the land you are entering to possess it [30:15–16]. . . . I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; THEREFORE CHOOSE LIFE, that you may live, you and your progeny, to love adonai [God] your Lord, to hearken to His voice, and to cleave unto Him; for that is your life and the length of your days…. [30:19–20].

This is Moses’ concluding reminder to the assemblage that responsibility for conduct and actions—and, by its conduct, responsibility for continually making the choice to follow and observe or to reject and ignore the Torah’s teachings of the Law and “the way”—remains perpetually a matter of human decision. We find here the roots of a basic Judaic theological principle: that the Divine desiderata is not mankind’s provocation of God’s anger, punishment, or retribution as a result of ignoring or flaunting His teachings, but, to the contrary, that humanity—through the gift of the Torah—will flourish and continue to be the intended ultimate beneficiary of the Torah and of Creation as the Divine plan.

The medieval commentator and exegete Abraham Ibn Ezra (1092–1167), understood the phrase “for that is your life” to mean “for He is your life”—viz., that to love and obey God by clinging to Him, and by extension to His teachings and way, is to have life and longevity in a mystical sense of God as the essence of life.

Choose Life was commissioned by Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, supported by a grant from the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition. Adler has described it in universal terms as a celebration of life, inspired by the words of Moses’ Third Discourse but expanded to encompass humanistic sensibilities that include post-Mosaic biblical quotations as well as contemporary poetic interpretations of the role of human choice in mankind’s present and future welfare. “What I wish to stress in this work,” the composer has explained, “is that, of all the earth’s creatures, we human beings are the only ones that know we are alive; and this realization is the Divine spark within all of us and permits us to ponder the kind of life we choose to live.” And his carefully ordered interweaving of musical and text elements was designed to emphasize this celebration of life: 

The music combined with the texts tries to capture the excitement of being fully alive—fully part of life: its ecstasy as well as its vicissitudes, its triumphs as well as its defeats…. I have used some ancient chants, which, to me, lend special flavor to the music. Finally, the words of Isaiah, “Arise, shine, for your light has come,” seem to cry out for a “Halleluiah, amen” at the end, which is my affirmation that most people want to choose a life that will unite humankind in a future of hope and successful survival. 

The theme of life’s celebration is represented from the outset by a persistent repetition of a single chord whose widely spaced voicing seems to suggest the universality at its core. Motoric and continuously accelerating percussion gestures lead to the choral entrance on the operative words from Moses’ discourse—words that intrigued and perplexed Adler in terms of their twin, perhaps symbiotic contexts of Divine sovereignty and rule on the one hand and the concept of divinely given free will on the other.

In addition to the quotation from Deuteronomy, the biblical texts here are drawn from Micah (6:8); Isaiah (56:1–2; 60:1); and Psalms 19:14, 27:11, 51:10, 130:5, and 146:10. The other Judaic excerpts come from the Mishnaic compilation of maxims, Pirkei Avot (Sayings of the Fathers). And the accompanying poetry comprises verse by Yehuda Halevi (see the notes to  Baroque Suite in Volume 20), Carol Adler, and Marianne Moore. These texts are interspersed among sections for chorus alone, tenor solo, mezzo-soprano and tenor duet, and mezzo-soprano and tenor solos with chorus, preceded by an orchestral introduction.  

By: Neil W. Levin

 

Lyrics

Part I.

(Orchestral Introduction)

CHORUS
See, I have set before you this day
Life and good, death and evil!
I command you this day to love the Lord your God,
To walk in His ways,
To keep His commandments,
His statutes and His ordinances,
That you may live, and multiply, and be blessed.
I call heaven and earth to witness this day
That I have set before you life and death. 
Therefore choose life, that you may live.
To love the Lord your God,
To harken to His voice, and to cleave unto Him;
For this is your life and the length of your days.
Choose life, that you may live.

from Deuteronomy 30: 15-20

It has been told you, O man, what is good,
And what the Lord requires of you.
Only to do justly, and love mercy,
And walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6: 8

Observe what is right, and do what is just.
For soon my deliverance shall come,
And my salvation be revealed.
Happy is the person who does this,
He who holds fast to it.

Isaiah 56: 1-2

TENOR SOLO
I have done a good and kindly deed;
O heart, rejoice!
I have done a good and kindly deed.
Now I am no longer lonely.
Someone lives, There lives a man
Whose eyes grow moist
When he thinks of me; O heart, rejoice.
There lives such a man!
No more, no, no more am I alone,
For I have done a good and kindly deed.
O heart, rejoice!
The days of sadness have come to an end.
I will do a thousand kindly deeds.
I feel already how everything loves me.
For I love everything. I pour out joy of understanding.
Thou my last, my very sweetest, clearest,
Purest, most ingenuous feeling: 
Kindliness, Kindliness!
I will do a thousand kindly deeds.
Oft-time through nature's richness I wander,
And there the trees and climbing plants will follow me.
The herbs and flowers overtake me.
I am hemmed in by outstretching roots.
Tender branches bind me fast;
Leaves do enfold me,
Soft as a tenuous shimmering waterfall.
Many hands reach out to me;
Many cool, green hands completely surround me. 
In love and loveliness, I stand imprisoned.
For I have done a good and kindly deed. 
I'm full of joy and kindness
And no more lonely.
Rejoice, rejoice, O my heart.

CHORUS
Seek the Lord while he can be found,
Call to him while he is near.
Let the wicked give up his ways,
Let him turn back unto the Lord,
And he will surely be pardoned. 

Isaiah 55: 6-7

TENOR SOLO
I have done a good and kindly deed.
I have done a thousand kindly deeds and will always.

CHORUS
My plans are not your plans,
Nor are my ways yours, says the Lord.

Isaiah 55: 8

But as the heav'ns are high above the earth,
So great His glory to all that hope in Him. 
No longer shall you need the sun for light by day,
Nor the moon by night, 
For the Lord shall be your light.
Your God shall be your everlasting glory.

Part II

MEZZO-SOPRANO SOLO
And God saw that everything He had made,
And behold, it was very good!

Genesis 1:31

And God said: “This world which I have made,
I place in your hand. Hold it and keep it in trust.”

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out like a shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade;
Bleared, smeared with toil.
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell;
the soil is bare now, nor can foot feel being shod.
And for all this Nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness, deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went,
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with
ah! bright wings.

"God's Grandeur" Gerard Manley Hopkins

TENOR AND MEZZO-SOPRANO SOLOS WITH CHORUS
Praise the Lord from the Heavens.
Praise the Lord, all His angels on high.
Praise Him in the heights.
Praise the Lord in the highest of heavens.
Praise the Lord, all His hosts.
Praise Him sun, moon and all shining stars.
Let them praise the name of the Lord.
For He commanded and they were created.
For He established them forever and ever.
Praise Him, for He has fixed their bounds,
So they cannot be moved.
Praise the Lord from the earth,
Ye sea monsters of all deeps,
Fire and hail, snow and frost,
Stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills,
Fruit trees and all cedars.
Beasts and all cattle,
Creeping things and flying birds.
Praise Ye the Lord, ye kings of the earth;
Praise Him all people and all princes of the world.
Young men and maidens together, praise the Lord.
For His name alone is exalted;
His glory is above the earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for His people.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord!

Psalm 148

Halleluyah, Amen.

(Orchestral Interlude)

MEZZO-SOPRANO SOLO
What is your innocence
What is your guilt? All are
naked, none is safe.
And whence is courage; the unanswered question,
he resolute doubt —
dumbly calling, deafly listening — that
is misfortune, even death,
encourages others
and in its defeat, stirs the 
the soul to be strong?
He sees deep and is glad, who
accedes to mortality
and in his imprisonment rises
upon himself as 
the sea in a chasm, struggling to be
free and unable to be,
in its surrendering
finds its continuing.
So he who strongly feels,
behaves. The very bird,
grown taller as he sings, steels
his form straight up. Though he is captive,
his mighty singing says
satisfaction is a lowly thing,
how pure a thing is joy.
This is mortality,
This is eternity.

 "What Are Years" Marianne Moore

CHORUS
Teach me your ways, Oh Lord.
Lead me in your paths.

Psalm 27: 11

I wait for the Lord,
My soul doth wait,
And in His word do I hope.

Psalm 130: 5

Create in me a clean heart, oh Lord,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 51: 10 

May the words of my mouth.
And the meditations of my heart
Be acceptable in your sight,
My Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19: 14

MEZZO-SOPRANO AND TENOR DUET
If there should be crying
that nobody hears
Or hands that spill empty
eyes that spell fear
Then let me be chosen
to fill those hands
and dry those tears.
Let me be appointed
to put up stakes,
drop crumbs
or leave something behind
so when night closes in
refusing the dawn
and when the hope that was given
is already gone
at least I can lend you
from the sigh of the wind
or the sweep of a wing
soaring upward
a little grace
a little sign.

"Night Song" Carol Adler

MEZZO-SOPRANO TENOR SOLOS AND CHORUS
If I am not for myself, who is for me?
If I am for myself alone, what am I ?
And if not now, when?
To love God truly, one must first love people.
If anyone says he loves God but despises
his fellow beings, you know he lies.
Let your house be open wide, and let the
needy be members of your household.
Which is the right path to choose? One
that is honorable in itself and also wins
honor from others.
You are not required to complete the work,
but neither are you at liberty to abstain from it.
The world is sustained by three things:
truth, justice, and peace.
How greatly God must have loved us
to create us in His image;
yet even greater love did He show us
in making us conscious that
we are created in His image.
Sayings of the Fathers
from the Talmud

CHORUS
To you the stars of morning sing;
From You their bright radiance must spring,
And steadfast in their vigil day and night
The sons of God, flooded with fervor ring Your praise;
They teach the holy ones to bring into your house
The breath of early light.

 "The Stars of Morning" Yehuda Halevy

Halleluyah, halleluyah,
Praise ye the Lord.
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

Isaiah 60: 1

The Lord shall reign forever,
Your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise ye the Lord!

Psalm 146: 10

Halleluyah, Amen


 

Credits

Composer: Samuel Adler

Length: 16:04
Genre: Choral

Performers: Mary Creswell, Mezzo-soprano;  Don Frazure, Tenor;  Timothy Koch, Conductor;  The University of Southern Mississippi Symphony Orchestra and Chorus

Additional Credits:

Publisher: G. Schirmer
Text reprinted from the Albany Records (TR238) release.

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