Symphony No. 5
We Are the Echoes
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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.