“Carthage” with The Crossing

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.

 

 

Summer Reading List

Some of the items on my bookshelf at the moment:

Music After the Fall: Modern Composition and Culture Since 1989 – Tim Rutherford-Johnson

The Givenness of Things – Marilynne Robinson

Incarnadine – Mary Szybist

The Politics of Upheaval – Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

Deeper Than Words – Brother David Steindl-Rast

The Bible and Proust are there as well, but the above items are ones I might actually finish at some point.

Summer Reading

recently completed:
Lila – Marilynne Robinson. Like its companions in Robinson’s “Iowa” trilogy (Gilead and Home), Lila offers writing that is beautiful in an intense but quiet way, full of a sober wisdom, rich in empathy.

in progress and upcoming:
Denise Levertov: A Poet’s Life – Dana Greene
Harvard Composers – Howard Pollack
The Spectral Piano – Marilyn Nonken
Composition in the Digital World – Robert Raines
A Dance of Polar Opposites – George Rochberg
Stomping the Blues – Albert Murray

Having enjoyed Pollack’s book on Copland, I sought out his Harvard Composers at the Penn library. On an nearby shelf was the Raines, a recent book I had not heard about, offering a collection of interviews with contemporary composers. Would any algorithm have suggested the Raines if I searched online for the Pollack? (Amazon does not.) I haven’t seen anything online yet that can replace the peculiar serendipities of libraries.

From the Reading Journal, #21

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.

– from the novel Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, quoted by Christian Wiman in his book My Bright Abyss. Wiman comments:

This seemed (and seems) to me, besides being prose of consummate clarity and beauty, to so perfectly articulate not only the sense of absence that for years I felt permeating every spiritual aspect of my life, but also, and more important, to bestow upon it an energy and agency, a prayerful but indefinable promise: “the world will be made whole.”

I just finished reading Housekeeping, and while I at first resisted the book for the simple reason of its deep sadness, the “consummate clarity and beauty” brought me in. I came to like it nearly as much as Robinson’s Gilead, one of my very favorite novels.

I heard about Wiman’s book in The New Yorker earlier this year, and it is on my fall reading list, along with finishing Robinson’s When I was a Child I Read Books, a collection of non-fiction pieces with insights on matters cultural, political and religious couched in Robinson’s clear, subtle, and luminous prose.