• Karel Husa
  • An American Te Deum for Chorus and Band (1976)

  • Associated Music Publishers Inc (World)
  • 4(2pic).3(ca).3+Ebcl+acl+bcl[+Bbcbcl].2asx+tsx+barsx+bsx.2+cbn/442+2btbn+2bar.0/timp.4perc/[org]/db
  • Mixed Chorus with 20-50 handbells in B-flat, C, D, E, F any octave
  • Baritone
  • 45 min
  • Henry David Thoreau, Ole Rølvaag, Otokar Brezina, folk, traditional, and liturgical sources

Programme Note

An American Te Deum for mixed chorus, baritone solo, and band commissioned by Louie J. Ella and Joanne Pochobradsky to commemorate the one hundred twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, December 5, 1976, and the bicentennial of this country. The work was composed in the summer and fall of 1976 in Ithaca, New York.

The main idea binding the work together, comes from short excerpts of the old Te Deum. Concentrating perhaps more on the Midwest, the texts include poems by Iowa’s Paul Engle, two paragraphs from Ole E. Rolvaag’s novel, “Giants in the Earth,” and two verses from Amana Songbook, “Evening Peace” by J.U.P. Schutz; also a Moravian folk song and a Swedish immigrant ballad, together with a writing by Henry David Thoreau. A poem by Czech Otokar Brezina was included because of our interest in the exploration of space and in the mystery of the cosmos.

The work opens with a drumming section reminiscent of an Afro-American and Indian dance song. As a little memento to Antonin Dvorak, a motif from his E-flat major Quintet (Op. 97) appears at the end of the second part, a motif which Dvorak took from an Indian song. This work, as well as the American Quartet, and sketches to the New World Symphony were composed in Iowa’s Spillville. Another Indian melody (Chippewa Lullaby) is “wandering” through No. 8 on flute.

In all, I have tried to ‘praise’ nature and men together with God at the time that this country celebrates its bicentennial.

—Karel Husa
Ithaca, N.Y., November 1976

Part One

1. Drum Ceremony

2. We praise Thee, O God: we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord
All the earth doth worship Thee, the Father everlasting.

3. When the Slovak set off to roam one fine day,
High on the hill we heard him cry, on his way:
"Father of mine, Mother so dear, Hear me call!
Sister I love and brother, too, Good-bye all!"
"Tell me truly, when I return, dear old hill,
shall I find you, steadfast and true,
Waiting still?
When I come home, where will my dear mother be?
When I return
Will my beloved still love me?”
(Moravian folk song, translated by Ruth Martin; used by permission of Associated Music Publishers, Inc.)

4. We sold out home and then we started
On a journey so far.
Like birds that fly away
Under summer’s waning star.
Oh, they’ll come flying back
When the spring is in the air,
But we shall never see again
Our native land so fair.
(Swedish emigrant ballad from 1850’s)

5. We praise Thee, O God: we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord
All the earth doth worship Thee, the Father everlasting.

Part Two

6. That night the Great Prairie stretched herself voluptuously; giantlike and full of cunning, she laughed softly into the reddish moon: 'Now we will see what human might may avail against us. Now we will see,

7. He was never laid to rest, except when fatigue had overcome him and sleep had taken him away from toil and fear. But this was seldom, however. He found his tasks too interesting to be a burden. Nothing tired his out here. Evermore beautiful grew the tale. And evermore dazzlingly shown the sunlight over the fairy castle.
(Two excerpts from “Giants in the Sky” by Ole E. Rolvaag; used by permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.)

8. Child, remember the moment of our birth
Is the same instant that begins our dying,
nd for as long as we endure the earth
All of our future is a troubled trying
To learn—do as we die at midnight, or next day,
Suddenly from infection’s sly erosion,
Or will the time-bomb of the heart delay
For three score years and ten its dull explosion?
Yet in that time we do not wholly die,
The memory of us outlives our breath,
For we are scattered among all who cry
Our name, or knew our hands and face giving
Year after year, darkening year, our death
An uttered life longer than our living.
(Paul Engle, from the “American Child”, 1956; reprinted by permission of Random House, New York)

9. Have mercy on us, O Lord, Have mercy upon us.
(Excerpt from the “Te Deum”)

Part Three

10. Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of majesty of Thy glory.
(Excerpt from the “Te Deum”)

Apollo spacecraft one hundred miles high
sees the thousand mile long Midwest
as a women’s body lying on the earth;
her head at cool Itasca to the north,
her feet in the Gulf of Mexico to the south,
Ohio and Missouri Rivers her long arms,
fingers fondling Rockies and Appalachians,
her neck in Minnesota, her backbone
named for the long-gone Indian tribes,
Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois,
Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee
Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana,
head tied to toes by their hard muscle,
Out of that beautiful body, I was born.
(Excerpt from “Heartland” by Paul Engle; used by permission of the author)

11. There are from time to time mornings, both in summer and in winter, when especially the world seems to begin anew, beyond which memory need not go, for not behind them is yesterday and our past life; when, as in the morning of a hour frost, there are visible effects as of a certain creative energy. …The world has visibly been recreated in the night. Mornings of creation, I call them. In the midst of these marks of a creative energy recently active, while the sun is rising with more than usual splendor, I look back…for the era of this creation, not into the night, but to a dawn for which no man ever rose early enough. A morning which carries us back beyond the Mosaic creation, where crystallizations are fresh and un-melted. It is the poet’s hour. Mornings when men are new-born, men who have the seeds of life in them.
(Henry David Thoreau, January 26, 1853)

12. Behind a world is another world,
star follows star when midnight darkens,
and among them is one, circling around the white sun,
and its flight thunders with mysteriously radiant music,
and souls of those, who suffered the most,
and enter within its sphere

Hundreds of brethrens have said: We know its secrecy.
the deceased awake there from their dream,
the living are passing away into sleep;
lovers have said: Its excessive radiance blinds us
and time, like fragrances of unknown flowers, will destroy everyone;
and those who knew the vision of seeing through ages.
are smilingly asking: Is it Earth?
(Otokar Brezina (1868-1929), “Is it Earth?”; freely translated by Karel Husa)

13. Why so many tears ‘neath the moon so mellow?
Why such tender longings silently expressed!
Coe now, dear brothers!
Is this your spirit?
Cast out all your sorrow;
All will be well!

Awaken now from your fitful slumber!
Life and its sorrow endure only for a night;
this night too will flee,
and a new day will dawn,
in the twinkling of an eye—
All will be well!
(J.U.P. Schutz, “Abendfrieden”, Amana Songbook, No. 124; translated by Eve Noe)

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of majesty of Thy glory.

An American Te Deum for chorus, baritone solo, and band was commissioned to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa and America’s bicentennial. In the composer’s own words, “the piece combines the thanks given to God in the Te Deum, the Latin hymn of thanksgiving, with praise to nature and mankind.”

An American Te Deum begins with a drum ceremony in which various percussion instruments set a mood reflective of the primal essence and natural beauty of the ‘Heartland’ of America. Following this passage is a phrase from the Latin Te Deum; then there are a Moravian folk song and a Swedish emigrant ballad, whose lyrics express the pioneering religious spirit of starting a journey towards a dream.

The effect of the rhythms corresponding to these basic themes is not unlike culture shock as we enter this realm of primal nature and dream images. They are almost totally absorbing as echoes of the land as it once existed; a land of prairies and streams.

The music in Part Two calls one to travel over the prairie under the light of a “redish moon” and to hear reflected the voice of the land as it rises and falls within the movement of the music. The lyrics express the effect of the land on the pioneer spirit. Husa feels a strong relationship between the Heartland and the men it inspired with visions of the future built on a living memory, as is shown in his choice of an excerpt from Paul Engle’s “American Child”.

The lyrics are performed to a large degree in a spoken form, carrying the sound of the letters and dividing lines, sentences, even syllables in a way sounding almost alien to our programmed ears; thus giving a slightly different meaning to their content. This style is particularly effective in Part Three where the lyrics send us into orbit of the planet. Engle’s text makes clear the relation of the primal land images to the pure aspiring pioneer spirit in a religious context.