The Hebrew liturgical poem adon olam, which is attributed to Solomon Ibn Gabirol (1021/22–c.1055), occurs within the body of the traditional morning liturgy, independent of its widely accepted yet nonobligatory role as a hymn concluding (actually, following) the Sabbath and other holy day morning and evening services. But it is the latter role that gives it its broadest familiarity. Hence the extraordinarily large number of musical versions and settings of it that have accumulated over the centuries in virtually every regional cultural tradition and in nearly every style—from simple strophic congregational tunes (contrafacts and adaptations as well as original melodies) to sophisticated artistic interpretations reflecting the grandeur of the words.
Stern’s setting of this hymn is the finale of A Rushing of New Waters, a cantata based on the first part of the Book of Ruth, which was commissioned by the Smith College Choir and the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundations of Smith and Amherst colleges. In that context it functions as a concluding chorus to the dramatic story—intended, according to the composer, to signify a celebration of Ruth’s faith and commitment to her adopted people and Naomi’s gratitude for her daughter-in-law’s loyalty. Imaginatively scored for women’s chorus (or treble voices), piano, and bells, it provides timbres not usually associated with this hymn, but which are both effective and—with Stern’s judicious and skillful control—appropriate. The cautious use of the bells appears to express a respectful jubilance at Ruth’s commitment and reconfirmation, and the mood of joyous yet restrained celebration in no way detracts from the awe, reverence, and majesty of the poem—a tribute to the composer’s judgment and finesse.
This musical interpretation constitutes an artistic concert setting. But with its exquisite simplicity and engaging melodic lines, it can serve equally this hymn’s liturgical function within synagogue worship—in those nonorthodox/nontraditional synagogues where the prohibition of musical instruments on Sabbaths and other holy days does not appertain.
Sung in Hebrew
Lord of the world, who reigned even before form was created,
It was when His will brought everything into existence—
That His name was proclaimed King.
At the time when His will brought everything into existence,
Then His name was proclaimed King.
And even should existence itself come to an end,
He, the Awesome One, would yet reign alone.
He was, He is, He shall always remain in splendor throughout eternity.
He is “One”—there is no second or other to be compared with Him.
He is without beginning and without end;
All power and dominion are His.
He is my God and my ever living Redeemer,
And the Rock upon whom I rely in times of distress and sorrow. He is my banner and my refuge,
The portion in my cup—my cup of life
Whenever I call to Him.
I entrust my spirit unto His hand,
As I go to sleep and as I awake;
For my body remains with my spirit.
The Lord is with me; I do not fear.
Performers: Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Chorus; Joseph Cullen, Conductor
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