Adam and Eve and the Animals


The cantata, Adam and Eve and the Animals, was composed in the late spring and early summer of 1987 at the request of the choral conductor Steven Edwards. Mr. Edwards suggested I compose a companion piece to Honegger’s King David.

What emerged is a four-movement cantata, for large mixed chorus, four vocal soloists and an instrumentation of winds, brass, percussion, keyboards and double bass. The instrumentation and the Biblical setting are the only real similarities to the Honegger work. Later Harry Jepson orchestrated the work for strings, woodwinds, harp, percussion and keyboards, without brass. Both versions have been performed, but I have withdrawn the first version in favor of the second which is the one now available for performance.

Adam and Eve was the first work to follow the composition of my second opera, Benjamin, and the two have both a similarity of style and the same librettist, Sarah White. According to Ms. White:

Our story is influenced by numerous painters, sculptors and poets who have elaborated their own versions of the Creation, Temptation, Fall and Expulsion. The text is borrowed from chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis (New English Bible) and from the anonymous Old French “Play of Adam,” written in the late twelfth century. However, these rich sources fail to credit the Animals for the redemptive role they play, consoling Adam and Eve and ourselves for the loss of Paradise. I have tried to repair that oversight.

The quickly shifting moods and tone of this sometimes dramatic, sometimes touching, and sometimes coyly amusing blend of several versions of the creation story caught my fancy right away, and the actual composition of the 27-minute work that resulted all took place within the compressed period of six weeks. Of course the orchestration, piano-vocal score construction and part editing took much longer. Fortunately I had the help of composer Jeffrey Nytch, who at that time was my composition student at Franklin and Marshall College.

The cantata is at times operatic in tone, with accompanied “recitative” and “aria” sections for the four soloists, God, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, alternating with ensemble singing, both with the chorus and without. This operatic quality is perhaps best exemplified by the dramatic arias of the Serpent and Eve in the third movement during the “temptation scene” and in God’s “fury aria,” also in the third movement. There is considerable a cappella writing for the chorus itself, which, though challenging for the performers, is a sound of which I am particularly fond.

The short, introductory, first movement begins a cappella, and depicts the creation of paradise with the resolution of a suitably exotic quasi--”French Sixth Chord” and a mixture of wholetone scale figurations. It closes with the accompanied recitative of God, in which He warns Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

After a short a cappella section for the chorus, reminiscent of the opening of the work, the second movement begins a scherzo-like canonic middle section in which the animals are introduced and named. The movement closes with the “paradise music,” which contains a prominent ostinato above an F# Major pedal point, the tonality toward which the entire work eventually gravitates.

The third and most complex movement contains the creation of Eve, the temptation, the fall of Adam and Eve, and the wrath of God. After another a cappella beginning, the creation of Eve and the Fall are both accompanied by swirling orchestration that builds in both cases toward the same explosive climax. These events frame God’s mysterious and ominous warning, accompanied by an f# minor drone, complete with English Horn snake -like music and a water gong glissandoing in the orchestration, a restatement of the “paradise music,” and the Serpent’s powerful aria, which was accompanied by brass in the smaller orchestration, now strings in the larger. After the fall, Eve’s transformation is depicted, as she ironically recapitulates the Serpent’s aria in a new orchestration. God’s fury is accompanied by the same meandering ostinato that depicted paradise, now transformed into a dissonant atonal parody of the original.

The last movement is an expanded version of the “paradise music” first heard at the end of the second movement. The tonal plan takes us entirely through the circle of fifths during the various episodes recounting the expulsion of Adam and Eve, but returns to F# Major as God proclaims, “Dust you are and to dust you will return.” The movement builds many layers previously heard separately into a resonant and fully joyous conclusion, as the animals choose to join Adam and Eve in leaving the Garden of Eden. The ending of the smaller orchestration was more bombastic than the serene diminuendo of the full orchestral version. --notes by the composer

Selected Performances of
Adam and Eve and the Animals:

Premiere: April 17, 1988, Lancaster, PA. Steven Edwards, Musical Director, F&M Choral Society, with guest artists Stephen Kalm (Adam), Karin Calabro (Eve), James Longacre (God), and Darrell Lauer (Serpent). This was a performance of the smaller orchestration, without strings.

May 2, 1999, Harrisburg, PA. Harrisburg Choral Society, Simon Andrews, Musical Director. This was a performance of the larger orchestration with strings.

© John Carbon 2015