Instrumentation: SATB, brass quintet, and timpani
Commission: University of Virginia
250th Jefferson Birthday Celebration, The Lawn, University of Virginia
We Hold These Truths (1992), is a setting of a large portion of the Declaration of Independence scored for SATB choir, brass quintet and timpani. Commissioned by the University of Virginia for the celebration of Jefferson’s 250th birthday on April 13, 1993, it was premiered on the Lawn following Mikhail Gorbachev’s keynote address. As a Professor of Music at the University of Virginia, founded by Jefferson, I felt it particularly appropriate to set portions of one of our country’s foundational texts. I was inspired by the passion, contemporary resonance and power of major portions of this revolutionary document, while recognizing the terrible racial prejudice and gender disparity emblematic of its time and still reverberating all too strongly today.
I composed We Hold These Truths during a residency at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, NH during the summer of 1992. As. Jefferson wrote, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration: “May it be to the world, what I believe it will be (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all), the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of mankind. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. …the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.”