Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, [New York]: N. Currier, 1848. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.
by Ned Rorem, b. 1923.
With more than 500 songs in his catalog, Ned Rorem is one of the most prolific composers of the American art song. Heavily influenced by his interest in poetry, Rorem has described the song as "a lyrical poem of moderate length set to music for single voice and piano." In choosing texts, Rorem has the innate ability to select those of exquisite craftsmanship. While Rorem has set the texts of British poets, including Edmund Spenser, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Alfred Lord Tennyson, he has also favored American writers such as Theodore Roethke, Paul Goodman, and Walt Whitman. Indeed, Rorem has turned to Whitman's writings as inspiration for a number of his compositions, including Five Songs to Poems by Walt Whitman for voice and piano (1957); War Scenes (1969); The Whitman Cantata (1983); and Goodbye My Fancy (1988).
"As Adam Early in the Morning" is contained in a collection of Rorem's songs entitled 14 Songs on American Poetry, published in 1961 by Henmar Press/C.F. Peters; however, in the liner notes accompanying a recording issued by the Phoenix label (1991), featuring bass-baritone Donald Gramm and pianist Eugene Istomin, Rorem recalls that the song itself was actually composed in the summer of 1957 while he was in Hyères, France. The songs were commissioned by and dedicated to Walder Luke Burnap, who premiered the songs, self-accompanied, in New York in the spring of 1958.
The short poem comes from the "Children of Adam" series of poems in Whitman's Leaves of Grass (1881-82). "As Adam Early in the Morning" is an appropriate finale to this series of poems in that it reaffirms its reiterated theme of Adam in paradise, having awakened, afresh and renewed, and at ease with his own body and his own existence. Whitman's suggestion is that by finding acceptance in our own bodies, we have possibly found true freedom. To reflect the sensual nature of the text, Rorem supplied a maestoso melody over a series of sustained chords. The song is infused with a pseudo-jazz coloring through the use of seventh, ninth, and eleventh chords throughout the composition.