Coming soon, this Saturday, October 27, will be the premiere of my Marilynne Robinson setting, Carthage, with The Crossing, Donald Nally conductor. The concert will be at Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church here in Philadelphia, at 8 pm, with a pre-concert chat at 7. I heard a recording from a rehearsal of the piece, and it is going to be another fabulous Crossing performance. I am very grateful. More on the concert here.
My text comes from Robinson’s novel Housekeeping. Here is my program note and the text:
I first came upon the text for Carthage, from the novel Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, when it was quoted in Christian Wiman’s book My Bright Abyss. Wiman rightly speaks of the text as being “of consummate clarity and beauty”, going on to say how it “so perfectly articulate[s] not only the sense of absence… but also bestow[s] on it an energy and agency, a prayerful but indefinable promise: ‘the world will be made whole’”. It was this combination of absence and promise, lack and fullness, that attracted me and led me to music of sober reflection and wild joy.
Imagine a Carthage sown with salt, and all the sowers gone, and the seeds lain however long in the earth, till there rose finally in vegetable profusion leaves and trees of rime and brine. What flowering would there be in such a garden? Light would force each salt calyx to open in prisms, and to fruit heavily with bright globes of water — peaches and grapes are little more than that, and where the world was salt there would be greater need of slaking. For need can blossom into all the compensations it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweet as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is foreshadowing — the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.
Excerpt from HOUSEKEEPING by Marilynne Robinson. Copyright © 1981 by Marilynne Robinson. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.