A Destiny of Liberty

Duration: 23 minutes

Instrumentation: 1(dbl. pics.)111/2111/timp.1 perc/harp/strings and SATB chorus; alternate version piano, 4-hands, and SATB chorus

The ideals advanced by the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt have made a lasting impact on American culture. Assuming office on the heels of the greatest financial crisis of the nation’s history, and before the backdrop of a gathering storm of global war, FDR’s speeches inspired, encouraged, castigated and even infuriated various segments of the population. New Deal legislation gave the executive branch of the government sweeping powers to return multitudes of jobless to work, and restore confidence in banking and the private sector.

It was in response to the dangerous and bellicose rhetoric amplifying from Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan that incited the defiant tone of FDR’s State of the Union speech in 1941. In the months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, FDR laid out his vision of a world that would guarantee for all freedom to speak freely, to worship according to the dictates of conscience, to be free from material want, and from the fear of despotism and the privations of violence and war. Ultimately remembered as the “Four Freedoms” speech, and with the insistence of the widowed Eleanor Roosevelt, it laid the foundation for what would one day become the charter of the United Nations.

The risk of any work that seeks to make public deity of a man, even a looming political figure, is to more acutely expose the ironies of personal imperfections, ill-begotten policies, and failures to right all injustices. The internment of Japanese-Americans, and the absence of greater efforts to protect European Jews are glaring blemishes on the FDR presidency that history will not, and should not, forget. Yet, with all great figures, we might extract something larger than the man or woman him or herself--we might look to the words they spoke on their best days, and find in them inspiration for something universal. We might find a hope that transcends our limitations, and the vision of a world to which we all ought to aspire. That is the world of the Four Freedoms. 

Commissioned by Music Celebrations International

Premiered, April 24, 2016, by the Four Freedoms Festival Choir at the Hylton Center for Performing Arts in Manassas, VA (Dr. Gary Schwartzhoff, music director)

Available through Colla Voce Music


I. "As men do not live by bread alone"

I address you, members of congress, at a moment unprecedented in the history of the Union. The democratic way of life is at this moment being assailed in every part of the world. That is why the future of the American Republics is in serious danger.
As men do not live by bread alone, they do not fight by armaments alone.

In future days we [seek to] make secure a world founded on four essential freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression--everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way--everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want--everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear--everywhere in the world.
Freedom means supremacy of human rights everywhere.
Our strength is our unity of purpose. To that high concept there can be no end save victory.

-From FDR, “Four freedoms speech” State of the Union Address, January 6, 1941

II. Freedom of Speech

Let your eyes see what they see, not what others want you to see.
Let your ears hear what they naturally hear, not what others want you to hear.
Let your mouth speak your mind freely and not be constrained by other people’s approval or disapproval.
Let your mind think what it wants to think and not let others dictate your thoughts.
If your senses and your mind are not allowed to do what they want to do naturally, you are denying them their rights. When you cannot think, sense, feel, or act freely, then your body and mind are injured.
Break these oppressions, and you will cultivate life.

-From Lie Yukuo (c. 400 BCE), Lieh-tzu: A Taoist Guide to Practical Living

III. Freedom of Worship

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu.  As-salamu alaykum.  Peace be with you.

Our democratic way of life has taught mankind the dignity of the human being.
[The] democratic way of life has taught mankind his equality before God, and the making of a better and fairer world. Everywhere in the world men of stout heart and firm faith are engaged in a spiritual struggle to test that ancient wisdom, or whether some few men shall dominate the others; dictate their thinking, their religion, and their living.

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu. As-salamu alaykum.

In teaching this democratic faith to American children, we need the sustaining aid of those great ethical religious teachings which are [our] heritage. For “not upon strength nor upon power, but upon the spirit of God” shall our democracy be founded. 

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I hove loved you.3

-Non-italicized text from FDR letter on religion in democracy to the Jewish Education Committee of New York, December 16, 1940

IV. Freedom from Want

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement.

I see millions of families trying to live on meager incomes; I see millions denied education, recreation...opportunity;
I see one third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill nourished.

If I know the spirit of the American people.

The money changers have fled the temple, have fled their high seats now. They have no vision; when there’s no vision the people perish.
They stand indicted; they stand rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

If I know the spirit of our Nation we will carry on.

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort, and in ministering to our fellow men.

--From FDR’s first and second inaugural addresses, respectively, March 4, 1933, and January 20, 1937

V. Freedom from Fear

In this year of war, 1945, we have learned lessons--at a fearful cost--and we shall profit by them.
In the days and in the years to come we shall work for a just and honorable peace, a durable peace.
We cannot live alone at peace. We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community. We have learned, that “the only way to have a friend is to be one.”
We can gain no lasting peace if we approach it with fear; we gain it with understanding, confidence, and courage.

Almighty God has blessed our land; He has given our people stout hearts and strong arms with which to strike mighty blows for freedom and truth. So [now] we pray to Him for the vision to see to a better life for ourselves and for our fellow men.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. It is attainable in our time.

--From FDR’s first and fourth inaugural addresses, respectively, March 4, 1933, and January 20, 1945