Composed September, 2007 - August 2008
Instrumentation: 2 2 2 2 - 4 3 3 1; Timp. 2Perc. Str.
This work is inspired by a story from Saint Augustine’s Confessions. The story recounts Augustine’s last day with his terminally ill mother, Monica.
“The day was imminent when she was to depart this life (the day which you knew and we did not). It came about, as I believe by your providence through your hidden ways, that she and I were standing leaning out of a window overlooking a garden…
…Alone with each other, we talked very intimately. ‘Forgetting the past and reaching forward to what lies ahead’ (Phil. 3: 13), we were searching together in the presence of the truth which is you yourself. We asked what quality of life the external life of the saints will have, a life which, ‘neither eye has seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man’ (I Cor. 2: 9). But with the mouth of the heart wide open, we drank in the waters flowing from your spring on high, ‘the spring of life’ (Ps. 35: 10) which is with you. Sprinkled with this dew to the limit of our capacity, our minds attempted in some degree to reflect on so great a reality.
The conversation led us towards the conclusion that the pleasure of the bodily senses, however delightful in the radiant light of the physical world, is seen by comparison with the life of eternity to be not even worth considering. Our minds were lifted up by an ardent affection towards eternal being itself. Step by step we climbed beyond all corporeal objects and the heaven itself, where sun, moon, and stars shed light on the earth. We ascended even further by internal reflection and dialogue and wonder at your works, and we entered into our own minds. We moved up beyond them so as to attain to the region of inexhaustible abundance where you feed Israel eternally with truth for food. There life is the wisdom by which all creatures come into being, both things which were and which will be. But wisdom itself is not brought into being but is as it was and always will. Furthermore, in this wisdom there is no past or future, but only being, since it is eternal. For to exist in the past or in the future is no property of the eternal. And while we talked and panted after it, we touched it in small degree by a moment of total concentration of the heart. And we sighed and left behind us ‘the firstfruits of the Spirit’ (Rom. 8: 23) bound to that higher world, as we returned to the noise of our human speech where a sentence has both a beginning and an ending. But what is to be compared to your word, Lord of our lives? It dwells in you without growing old and gives renewal to all things.”
-Saint Augustine, Confessions. Book IX. x (Translated by Henry Chadwick. Oxford: Oxford, 1991.)
My hope in writing this quasi-overture is not to simply tell a story, but to express the meaning behind Augustine’s great work. For Augustine, everything that exists in the universe comes from God’s eternal being. Taking this into consideration, one melodic theme (which is fragmented, shifted, embellished, and rearranged throughout the piece) is the structure behind every musical gesture. This theme is only heard in its complete form once. There is, however, one musical idea that diverges from the theme itself – a beating heart motive. This motive alludes to the core statement of Augustine’s Confessions – “Our heart is restless until it rests in you” (Augustine, Book I. i)
-NATHAN WILSON BALL