Monday, September 19, 2011

Memorial, Part 4: Petitions

René Clausen wrote of this section,

The final section, "Petitions" is an elegiac and introspective musical prayer for mercy, mutual understanding, and hope for the future. The primary text is one verse form Psalm 80, "O God, shine your light on us and we shall be saved."  This phrase is presented, first sequentially, and then simultaneously, in English, Latin,(Domine Deus, ostende lucem tuam, Et salvie erimus) Hebrew (Transliterated: Adonai, behaer panecha, venivashea) and Arabic (Transliterated: Ya Rab Naw-war Alaina).  In juxtaposing these languages, some of which are the languages of cultures at war with one another, it is the hope of the composer that is so doing we may find a common ground of higher being, and be called away from darkness into light.  The piece ends with a quiet Kyrie--a plea for God's mercy on this world.

The section begins with the sopranos singing "Adonai," with an octave leap on the first two notes of each phrase. This time the word is sung with a worshipful, supplicating tone.  They are joined in turn by the altos, tenors and bass in a beautiful contrapuntal passage which   ends in two unison repetitions of "Adonai."  The baritone then reenters, with the choir singing the "Adonai" figure underneath the solo:

Gracious and loving God, pour forth your mercy upon us all
We pray for our enemies, all those who hate us,
We condemn them to your mercy, O God.

This solo contains one of the most problematic passages in the piece.  What does it mean to be condemned to the mercy of God? Is it that we all, Americans and terrorists alike live under the mercy of God? Is judgment involved in mercy?  God is characterized as a merciful and just God, so the answer lies somewhere in the tension of those two opposing ideas.  I do not know what that answer is. 

The choir then sings the passage from Psalm 80, first the women and then the men, in Arabic.

The bass comes back in:

Gracious and loving God, pour forth your mercy upon us all.
If there be any grain of hatred in us,
Wash us clean and cleanse us, wash us clean and cleanse us,
Wash us clean and cleanse us.
Move us to the common  ground of your being, O God. 

The choir then begins the "Kyrie" section, one of the most lyric parts of the work. This song has become popular as a stand-alone anthem. Of the idea of mercy in this part, René Clausen's department chair, Dr.  Robert J. Chabora, said, "All we can do is ask for mercy," but there is in this section a sense of hope. We may take what is violent and ugly and tragic out of life and transform it with the beauty of the art we create. That is one reason we sing, and it is one reason we went to New York City for this remarkable weekend that I think none of us will ever forget.

1 comment:

  1. This version corrects some of the typos of the original post. Thanks.