|Adon olam (Lukas Foss)||04:51|
The liturgical poem adon olam, which is attributed to Solomon Ibn Gabirol (1021/22—c. 1055), occurs within the body of the traditional morning liturgy independently of its widely accepted role as a concluding hymn of (actually, following) formal Sabbath and other holy day morning and evening services. But that role gives it its broadest familiarity and provides the function to which Foss’s setting applies. Although the text is commonly assumed always to have been sung congregationally to a variety of simple tunes—a perception that persists throughout the American Synagogue—its rendition as a strophic, repetitive, and monodic congregational hymn dates only to the emergence of the so-called radical Reform synagogue format in Germany in the first half of the 19th century. In that revised context, such texts as this answered the sudden need for a few familiar Hebrew texts with theologically universal and accessible sentiments, suitable for communal singing, to supplement either newly crafted or adapted German hymns in congregations that wanted to retain an aesthetic echo of Hebrew. But even in German Liberale (the nonorthodox but still traditionally oriented mainstream in the modern era in Central Europe, sometimes dubbed “moderate reform”) and modern orthodox synagogues among German-speaking Jewry throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, adon olam was most frequently performed formally as an artistic statement—sometimes even an elaborate composition that gave a resolute “finale” to the service. The printed as well as the manuscript evidence indicates that this typically was the desiderata in eastern Europe as well, even if not everywhere attainable, while other texts did provide opportunities for purely congregational singing.
Foss was invited to compose his adon olam setting by Cantor David J. Putterman and the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York, as part of its program of commissioning new music—by composers who were already devoted to synagogue music and by those, like Foss, whose reputations resided in the general music world—in order to expand and enhance the repertoire of music for Jewish worship. This was Foss’s first (and his sole) excursion into Hebrew liturgical music, and it was premiered at the Park Avenue Synagogue in 1947 at its annual service of new music. Its style will appear even more remote to many Jewish worshipers today than it did at the time, for not only does it avoid the superficial pompous character of many settings found in Reform-oriented hymnals of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but it is also entirely free of the kitsch and even vulgarity that has become attached to the singing of this text in many late-20th–21st-century services—Reform or traditional—a senseless and embarrassing fashion that probably could not have been imagined in 1947. Rather, its devotional and ethereal quality is an apt interpretation of the poetic expres- sions of faith contained in the text. With its exquisite vocal lines and stately, sometimes other-earthly mood, the music mirrors admirably the dignity, majesty, and elegance of the words. Indeed—albeit probably unwittingly, since Foss pursued his task with complete artistic freedom—this setting at once actually follows and advances the Central European tradition as manifested in classic adon olam settings by many of the 19th-century masters of European synagogue music.
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.
Publisher: Associated Music Publishers
Translation by Rabbi Morton M. Leifman
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