Bennett – “The Four Freedoms” – A Symphony after Four Paintings by Norman Rockwell

by Max Derrickson

Robert Russell Bennett   (b June 15, 1894 in Kansas City, Missouri; d August 18, 1981 inNew York)

“The Four Freedoms” – A Symphony after Four Paintings by Norman Rockwell

  1. Allegro vigoroso (Freedom of Speech)
  2. Andante sostenuto (Freedom of Worship)
  3. Scherzo (Freedom from Want)
  4. Lento tranquillo – March (Freedom from Fear)


The Twentieth Century has been called the “American Century.”  Undeniably, it was America’s participation in World War II that thrust it onto the world stage as a leading super-power and as a champion of human rights.  In this regard, one of America’s most eloquent voices was that of President Franklin Roosevelt.  Within a large body of his rhetoric stands one of the great American utterances after the Bill of Rights – his “Four Freedoms” speech delivered in his Annual Message to the Congress on January 6, 1941 – a speech which seemed to capture most poignantly the spirit of determination, human dignity and world vision that represented American ideals to a war-beleaguered world.


Aside from its leadership in the War, America’s entertainment industry also became a model for most of the world in the Twentieth Century.  Hollywood, Broadway, radio and television were fields where a new kind of popular/light-classical, very American sounding music emerged.  And as a nation at war inEurope, radio broadcasted those American sounds throughout the world – it was an American Century indeed.  And behind that American sound of music stood one musician, in particular, who was arguablyAmerica’s greatest orchestrator and musical arranger: Robert Russell Bennett.

[. . .]

Perhaps it was inevitable, then, that in 1943, with the United States and the world in the throes of war, that the Saturday Evening Post would look to two of its quintessentially American artists to help in the war effort – Norman Rockwell and Robert Russell Bennett.  The Post first commissioned Rockwell to paint scenes based onRoosevelt’s “Four Freedoms,” and then asked Bennett to compose a symphony based on Rockwell’s paintings.  Both works were immediately successful.  Rockwell’s paintings were soon after used on U.S. War Bonds.  [. . .]

Movement I: Freedom of Speech

Bennett explained that his Symphony was meant to accompany Rockwell’s paintings “…as a motion-picture score follows the idea of a film.”   The first movement, then, is the tonal expression of a street orator. [.  .  .]   [copy of painting inserted here]
“In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms…  The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world.”   — Roosevelt (The Four Freedoms Speech)

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