January 2021 marks the 80th anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" speech. Having just been re-elected to to the presidency for a historic third term, FDR addressed congress and the American people on January 6, 1941 about the progressing threat of World War II in Europe, and the moral imperative Americans faced to defend democracy around the world.
Composer David Evan Thomas beautifully adapted this speech into his piece for vocal quartet and piano, "The Four Freedoms," which Fourth Coast Ensemble performed with pianist Mark Bilyeu on our 2018 Americana concerts.
This nation has placed its destiny
The song begins with all four voices in unison: evoking the mutual responsibility that citizens of a democracy share. Then, rich four-part harmony breaks out as the singers proclaim, "Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere." This line is repeated again as if to drive home the meaning of those words even further.
The four freedoms are laid out clearly by each of the four solo voices – bass-baritone, mezzo-soprano, tenor, and soprano – and the singers are spurred forward by an increasingly insistent piano part. This moment dovetails into a glorious a cappella section, and my personal favorite part of the song. The voices soar, simultaneously independent and inter-dependent. Beautiful melismas weave together and apart in satisfying harmony as we hear the four freedoms repeated again and again.
Piano and singers join together to conclude in agreement: "This is no vision for a distant millennium. It is attainable in our own time."
The song is an encouraging and uplifting reminder of our democratic ideals. It also invites each of us to reflect on what we are doing to further these goals as citizens today. Whether through social activism, getting an education, performing charitable work, or exercising your democratic right to vote, you can join your voice in the harmonious chorus of democracy. I invite you to take a moment in the coming days to appreciate the exciting power and responsibility we share as Americans: This is no vision for a distant millennium. It is attainable in our own time.
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