Cantata for the Unsung



For soprano, tenor, children’s chorus, and orchestra.
 1011 – 2000 – timp – hp – strings

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 Duration: 18 minutes

instrumentation: 1011 – 2000 – timp – hp – strings + soprano, tenor, and children’s chorus

How does one compose music for tragic events that surpass the human imagination? More specifically, if that composer is a male, how does he write music to give perspective through the eyes of a female? This is the position I found myself in, when asked by Maestro Roi Azoulay and Congregation Shaar Hashomayim to write a Cantata for the unsung heroes of wars from the past, namely, women.

I decided to focus on the quality with which all could identify: hope.
The prayer that starts and culminates the work, written by the female poet Chanah Senesh
(in a setting beautifully arranged by Stephen Glass), reads:
“O Lord, my God, I pray that these things never end…”, referencing sand, sea, heaven, and mankind. This hopeful vision of the here and after provides a framework for the entire cantata, so that neither the dauntingly dire text of nurse Charlotte Delbo from Auschwitz (“did you know that you can see your mother dead and not shed a tear?”) nor the despair in John McCrae’s ‘In Flanders Fields’
(“Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, loved…”) can suppress the uplifting
spirit of “Eili, Eili”, the musical prayer at which the cantata eventually arrives. It is only
appropriate that this music is sung by those in which hope is most embodied: our children.

Jim Stephenson November, 2016

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