Songs for Adam

James Primosch

Performing Ensemble: Voice and Orchestra
Text: Poetry by Susan Stewart
Duration: 30:00
Publisher: Merion Music, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

After the 2002 Chicago Symphony premiere of my Rilke settings entitled From a Book of Hours, the CSO administration generously asked for a sequel, suggesting that this time I work with a living poet. I immediately thought of my friend Susan Stewart, whose poem "Cinder" had formed the emotional fulcrum of my song cycle Holy the Firm. Charged with writing texts to be sung by a man, Susan created a set of poems for the first baritone: Adam. Her deeply wise meditations on the biblical stories range from the contemplative to the dramatic, and offer an expressive arc very favorable for musical setting. Adam stammers at the beginning of the cycle before learning to "open my mouth to sing". Having found his voice, in the second song he gives names to everything in his world, reflecting in the song?s second part on the mystery of the light that fills the Creation. In the next song, Adam tells of the creation of Eve. The supporting harmony, chilly at first with metallic percussion, thaws at her appearance. Violent music frames the fourth song, which is about the expulsion from the garden. Here, while the narrator's comments are pointed or declamatory by turns, God's singing resembles Gregorian chant After the oracular lines about the two trees, the introductory music reappears. A tear-laden lullabye of the exiles follows in the next song. The last movement begins without pause. Here I used a passacaglia, a repeated pattern in the bass of a kind that composers since Purcell and Bach have employed for fateful or lamenting music. The repetitions reflect the echoing of Abel's death through the millennia, down to our own fathers, mothers, and children.

Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Composition Date 2009
Orchestration Solo Baritone; 3(dbl. Picc.) 3(dbl.E.H.) 3(dbl.B.Cl.) 3 – 4 3 3 1; 3Perc. Pno.(Cel.) Hp. Str.
Premiere October 29th, 30th, 31st, 2009, Brian Mulligan, Baritone; Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis; Chicago, IL


I. Adam lay a-bounden, bounden in a bond
II. the names
III. the dream (four thousand winters thought he not too long)
IV. the cool of the evening
V. lullabye
VI. as clerkes find written in their book

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