El Salto 2
January 31, 2006
Dwight Chapel
New Haven, CT


(For more information please contact Robin McClellan via email.)
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PROGRAM (scroll down for full TEXTS and AUDIO):
The following music and readings were presented on January 31, 2006. Materials are reproduced here without permission of publishers or authors, for informational purposes only.

Opening Congregational Song   

        Mellissa Hughes and Ian Howell, cantors  

First Reading:  Qur’an, Sura 99: “The Quaking”

        trans. Michael Sells, from Approaching the Qur’án: The Early Revelations
        read by Doug Williams

First Musical Presentation:  Lacrymosa

        by Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky
        Mellissa Hughes, soprano; Steven Gearhart, conductor; Laura Esnaola, Caroline
        Shaw, violins; Noelia Gomez, viola; Estelle Choi, cello

Second Reading:  The Law of Human Nature

        by C.S. Lewis, from Mere Christianity
        read by Kaji Spellman

Second Musical Presentation:  Desired Constellation

        by Björk, from Medulla
        Mellissa Hughes, soprano

Short Talk:  Shostakovich’s 8th String Quartet

        by Robin McClellan

Third Musical Presentation:  String Quartet No. 8, Fifth Movement

        by Dmitri Shostakovich
        Laura Esnaola, Caroline Shaw, violins; Noelia Gomez, viola; Estelle Choi, cello
       
Third ReadingOrientation

        by Moya Cannon, from Carrying the Songs
        read by Mellissa Hughes

Closing Congregational Song

        Mellissa Hughes and Ian Howell, cantors


About the program
The way the texts and music are combined here can give rise to many different interpretations of their meanings, individually and as a group.  We offer here one possible explanation of some of ways they go together.  But the program is designed to raise questions rather than to answer them; we invite you to draw your own conclusions, and we hope that you will come away with some new perspective, whether small or vast.

The texts and music chosen for today’s El Salto revolve around questions of decisions, conscience, moments of truth, our innate moral sense, and living with moral complexity. Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky’s terrifying piece Lacrymosa, from the “Dies Irae” section of the Roman Catholic Mass, is the centerpiece of the program.  Though the text is not from the Bible, it reflects on passages from Revelation that describe the terror of judgment day.

Before the Lacrymosa, you will hear a passage from the Qur’an that presents an Islamic view of the same incredible moment, the “day of reckoning”.  Where the Christian version focuses on tears, guilt and the need for mercy, the Qur’an seems more matter-of-fact: according to the translator’s interpretation, it simply warns us of a time when we will come face to face with the reality of our everyday choices.  The passage seems to throw us back on ourselves, asking us to think hard about who we really are.

The reading that follows returns us to the Christian perspective. Though couched in a more recent style of language than the Lacrymosa, C.S. Lewis expands on the same basic Christian viewpoint: humans are fundamentally at odds with a Moral Law (also known as God) that is already built into the universe. 

Lewis writes compellingly, and it is easy to take his statement at face value.  But the music that follows may cause Lewis’ way of looking at things to seem a little too cut and dried.  Björk’s Desired Constellation touches on the same subtle process Lewis discusses, how we fudge here and there, and how that can rub uncomfortably against our inner “sense of justice.”   But where Lewis seemed a little unforgiving, Björk’s music draws us inside this kind of dilemma—one we have all faced many times.  Just as the Lacrymosa begs Jesus to forgive us, Björk’s song may tempt us to forgive ourselves, just a little.

Shostakovich’s 8th String Quartet takes us even further from the clear-cut moral world Lewis describes.  Written in a fever of anxiety over his impending decision about whether to join the Communist Party in 1960, Shostakovich’s music reminds us that moral choices are not always obvious: sometimes, two choices, in direct conflict with one another, can both be morally right. 

Part of the difference between Lewis’ forthright moral sense and the kind of situation Shostakovich found himself in may be historical.  Lewis’ 1940s were a time of bold vision and a righteous sense of justice.  But World War II and the Cold War threw the world into doubt; suddenly what had seemed so clear before became complex, ambiguous, and troubling. 

Irish poet Moya Cannon’s wistful “Orientation”, to be published in 2006, recalls the “carnage of our last century and of the century just begun”, referring perhaps not only to the physical carnage but also damage to a more comfortable moral sense we may have enjoyed before.  Might we, just for now, regain some sense of direction, of temporary certainty?

 

TEXTS:

Opening Congregational Music: El Salto Song
FOR RECORDING OF CLOSING SONG, SCROLL DOWN

2 Cantors (v1)        We cry out in joyful, solemn song
                            the choir resounds in symphony

All (v2)                 We leap ahead, within, beyond
                            join voice in sympathy

2 Cantors (v1)        Our proud harmony casts a searching light
                            for all those gathered here in unity

All (v2)                 We leap ahead, within, beyond
                            now we will seek new sounds

All (v1)                  We with golden sound will reveal
                             the bright worlds hidden close around us

All (v2)                  We leap ahead, within, beyond
                             now we will hear new songs

 

First ReadingQur’án, Sura 99: “The Quaking”
trans. Michael Sells, from Approaching the Qur’án: The Early Revelations (1999)

In the Name of God the Compassionate the Caring
When the earth is shaken, quaking
When the earth bears forth her burdens
And someone says "What is with her?"
At that time she will tell her news
As her lord revealed her
At that time people will straggle forth
      to be shown what they have done
Whoever does a mote's weight good will see it
Whoever does a mote's weight wrong will see it

[Translator’s commentary on Sura 99:]
As the earth itself is shattered and gives forth its final secret, human beings will come forth in scattered groups to encounter what they have been and truly are. Whoever has done a "mote's weight good" will “see it"; that is, the person will see, in all its momentous finality, the act that might have seemed small at the time. Similarly, whoever has done a "mote's weight wrong," an act of injustice or neglect that might have seemed insignificant at the time, will see it in its ultimacy. As with many of the shortest Suras [or “chapters”] concerning the day of reckoning, the recognition of what has been done, of good or evil–a recognition occurring at a moment when nothing can be changed, evaded, or rewritten–is the core of the reckoning.
[continuing commentary, from translator’s Glossary (abridged):]

The Day of Reckoning (yawm ad-din)...is the primary subject of the early Meccan Suras. The word translated here as reckoning (din) is related to a number of terms for borrowing and payment of debt, as well as to terms for religion and faith. The word for day (yawm) also can be a more general term for any length of time or a moment in time.  The term has been translated as “day of judgment” and “day of accounting.”  But it also has an implication similar to the “moment of truth”–that is, a time of indeterminate duration in which each soul will encounter the fundamental reality that normal consciousness masks.  At that moment each person will know what he or she has given and held back, and every “mote’s weight” of kindness or meanness will take on its status as one’s true self and destiny in a moment of revelation and finality. 


First Musical Presentation:  Lacrymosa
by Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky  (ca. 1991)

Lacrymosa dies illa,
Qua resurget ex favilla,
Judicandus homo reus. 
Huic ergo parce Deus. 

Pie Jesu Domine,
dona eis requiem. 
Amen.

What tears on that day
when, rising from embers,
guilty humanity is judged. 
Therefore spare them, O God.  

Merciful Lord Jesus,
grant them rest.
Amen.

 

Second ReadingThe Law of Human Nature
by C.S. Lewis, from Mere Christianity (1943)  The passage has been abridged.

Every one has heard people quarrelling. Sometimes it sounds funny and sometimes it sounds merely unpleasant; but however it sounds, I believe we can learn something very important from listening to the kind of things they say. They say things like this: "How'd you like it if anyone did the same to you?" "That's my seat, I was there first" "Leave him alone, he isn't doing you any harm" "Why should you shove in first?" "Give me a bit of your orange, I gave you a bit of mine" "Come on, you promised." ... Now what interests me about all these remarks is that the man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man's behaviour does not happen to please him. He is appealing to some kind of standard of behaviour which he expects the other man to know about. And the other man very seldom replies: "To hell with your standard." Nearly always he tries to make out that what he has been doing does not really go against the standard, or that if it does there is some special excuse ... It looks, in fact, very much as if both parties had in mind some kind of Law or Rule of fair play or decent behaviour or morality or whatever you like to call it, about which they really agreed. And they have. ...

Now this Law or Rule about Right and Wrong used to be called the Law of Nature ... because people thought that every one knew it by nature and did not need to be taught it ... they thought that the human idea of decent behaviour was obvious to every one. And I believe they were right. ...

Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining "It's not fair" before you can say Jack Robinson. A nation may say treaties do not matter; but then, next minute, they spoil their case by saying that the particular treaty they want to break was an unfair one. But if I treaties do not matter, and if there is no such thing as Right and Wrong in other words, if there is no Law of Nature what is the difference between a fair treaty and an unfair one? Have they not let the cat out of the bag and shown that, whatever they say, they really know the Law of Nature just like anyone else?

It seems, then, we are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong. People may be sometimes mistaken about them, just as people sometimes get their sums wrong; but they are not a matter of mere taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table. Now if we are agreed about that, I go on to my next point, which is this. None of us are really keeping the law of Nature ... this year, or this month, or, more likely, this very day, we have failed to practise ourselves the kind of behaviour we expect from other people.

There may be all sorts of excuses for us. That time you were so unfair to the children was when you were very tired. That slightly shady business about the money, the one you have almost forgotten came when you were very hard up ... And as for your behaviour to your wife (or husband) or sister (or brother)– if I knew how irritating they could be, I would not wonder at it–and who the dickens am I, anyway?  I am just the same. That is to say, I do not succeed in keeping the Law of Nature very well, and the moment anyone tells me I am not keeping it, there starts up in my mind a string of excuses as long as your arm. The question at the moment is not whether they are good excuses. The point is that they are one more proof of how deeply, whether we like it or not, we believe in the Law of Nature. If we do not believe in decent behaviour, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently? ...

These, then, are the two points I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; but they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in. 

 

Second Musical Presentation:  Desired Constellation
by Björk (2004), arr. Hughes 2006

It's tricky when
You feel someone
Has done something
On your behalf

It's slippery when
Your sense of justice
Murmurs underneath
And is asking you:

How am I going to make it right?
How am I going to make it right?

With a palm full of stars
I throw them like dice
Repeatedly
On the table
Repeatedly
I shake them like dice
And throw them on the table
Repeatedly
Repeatedly
Until the desired constellation appears

How am I going to make it right?
How am I going to make it right?
How am I going to make it right?
And you hear
How am I going to make it right?

How am I going to make it right?

 

Short Talk  by Robin McClellan

In 1934, the young Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich rose quickly to the top of his profession with the wild success of his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mt-Sense District.  Two years later, at the height of the Great Terror in Soviet Russia, in which intellectuals and artists were intimidated, deported, or murdered, Joseph Stalin attended a performance of Shostakovich’s opera.  A week later, an unsigned letter appeared in a prominent paper which condemned the opera as “muddled” and “leftist”.

In the atmosphere of terror and apprehension Stalin cultivated, the letter served as a clear warning to Shostakovich.  The opera was stopped and Shostakovich fell from favor in artistic and political circles. 
He feared both for his career as a composer and for his safety. 

During the next few decades, and especially after Stalin’s death in 1953, Shostakovich gradually regained to his position of favor in Russian musical life.  But he never really trusted the Soviet political system after that. 

In 1960, he came under direct pressure to join the Communist party.  We don’t know his true feelings about this difficult choice because he never wrote about them, but his close friends report that the pressure to join the party caused Shostakovich to feel an acute sense of inner conflict and shame.  It became, for him, a terrible moral choice. 

The Communist leadership, by now, allowed him to write the music he wanted to write and to live the life he wanted to live.  Joining the regime meant not only preserving his freedom both personally and artistically—it also meant preserving his ability to express his views freely through his music, something he could not do in words. 
But joining the party also meant becoming a part of a political system that had mistreated him terribly in the past, and which he knew condoned repression and violence. 

So–should he refuse to join, placing his artistic life and well-being, not to mention the safety of his family and friends, at the mercy of the Communist regime???  In the midst of this dilemma, in just three days of furiously intense work, Shostakovich composed the piece you’re about to hear—his famous 8th String Quartet.  To placate the Communist party, Shostakovich said that the piece was written to condemn Fascism.  But those close to him knew that the work was a response to the terrible inner moral conflict he had been thrust into.
 
SO why am I telling you all this???     Because the piece you’re about to hear provides a great example of a case where the moral choice was not so clear as we—or Shostakovich—might have liked. If we made a guess based on what C.S. Lewis told us earlier, he might say that Shostakovich’s choice was, quote, “obvious”.  He might say that, deep down, Shostakovich knew what the right choice was—that a moral human being, doing his best to observe the “Law of Human Nature”, would never support, even passively, a repressive regime which he knew to deliberately condone violence.  Much better to sacrifice for what’s morally right.   . . .     Right? 
Of course, we don’t know what C.S. Lewis would have said—given the circumstances, he might have been sympathetic when Shostakovich’s did decide to join the party.  But based on what we heard, I believe Lewis would still have felt that Shostakovich sacrificed the truest, deepest moral law for a lesser law—albeit an understandable and expedient one, which allowed him to continue composing freely.  Shostakovich himself may have thought of it the same way: his friends say he agonized terribly over his choice.

But as outside observers, WE could argue,  just as easily,  that the choice Shostakovich made represented his adherence to a different and opposite–but equally true–moral choice.  We could say that perhaps it WAS morally right to join a repressive, violent regime if it meant that he could continue to contribute to the world in the best way he knew how: by expressing himself through his music.

This is the point I want to make:  I think it is perfectly valid to view his decision as a legitimate effort to uphold a different, but just as correct, moral standard.  I believe Shostakovich did the right thing. 

Whether or not you agree with me, Shostakovich’s story shows us that not all moral choices are obvious.  A great many are not so clear—nor could they be, for all our wishing.  Many choices we face every day are, by nature, immensely complex, endlessly ambiguous, and very often have two conflicting but correct sides.  Let the music you’re about to hear stand as an illustration in sound—of this timeless problem.

Third Musical Presentation:  String Quartet No. 8, Fifth Movement
by Dmitri Shostakovich (1960)

 

Third Reading: Orientation
by Moya Cannon, from Carrying the Songs  (2006)

A flock of seagulls
rocks on the water
at the sheltered end of Nimmo's pier
the birds' white breasts all turned into the January wind.

Crystals in cooling magma
orient themselves to magnetic north
as towards a constant
although, over deep time,
poles shift about like bedrock like stars

For us, who carry,
in our twined chromosomes,
all the wonder and terror
evolved within animal time and bone

the carnage of our last century
and of the century just begun
for us, might there be
some wandering pole or orient,

towards which some primal grain in us
might align itself, some kind of good,
some love, not absolutely constant,

but, within the time which comprehends us,
constant enough to draw us
like these seagulls, their tails and bills
the dipping points of compass needles.

 

Closing Congregational Music: El Salto Song

2 Cantors (v1)        We cry out in joyful, solemn song
                            the choir resounds in symphony

All (v2)                 We leap ahead, within, beyond
                            join voice in sympathy

2 Cantors (v1)        Our proud harmony casts a searching light
                            for all those gathered here in unity

All (v2)                 We leap ahead, within, beyond
                            now we have heard new sounds

All (v1)                  We with golden sound will reveal
                             the bright worlds hidden close around us

All (v2)                  We leap ahead, within, beyond
                             now we have heard new songs

 

About the Composers and Writers

Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky (b. April 1963, Tashkent). Uzbek composer of stage, orchestral, chamber, vocal, and electroacoustic works.  He is also very active in the promotion of contemporary music.  Mr. Yanov-Yanovsky graduated from the Tashkent State Conservatory in 1986, where he took composition and instrumentation classes with his father, Felix Yanov-Yanovsky.
He has won numerous awards, including Second Prize at the International Competition of Composition De Musique Sacrée in Fribourg, Switzerland (1991) for his piece Lacrymosa and the Special Award of Nantes at the Cannes International Film Festival (1992) for his score to the film Kammie.
His works have been performed at the Kronos and Friends Festival (1993-94), the ISCM World Music Days, Stockholm (1994), the Schleswig-Holstein Festival (1994-95), Music Today (1995), the Moscow Autumn Festival (1996-97), the Warsaw Autumn Festival (1997), the Museum of Modern Art (2001), and many others.  Among the performers of his music are the ALEA III Ensemble, the Arditti String Quartet, the Kronos Quartet, the Moscow Contemporary Music Ensemble, the New Juilliard Ensemble, sopranos Barbara Bayer, Phyllis Bryn-Julson, Sarah Leonard and Dawn Upshaw, countertenor David James, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, conductors Dennis Russell Davies, Diego Masson, Pascal Rophé and Joel Sachs, the Silk Road Ensemble, the Xenakis Ensemble, and many others.
In 1996, he founded the International Festival of Contemporary Music ILKHOM-XX in Tashkent, and is now an artistic director of the festival. Mr. Yanov-Yanovsky has composed scores for 40 films and more than 20 theatre performances.    
Bio adapted from www.composers21.com

Iceland's premiere sonic adventurer Björk shone as a star-in-the-making as one of the lead vocalists in the avant-pop sextet The Sugarcubes.  Her old group disbanded in 1993 and soon after the raven-haired songstress released her first solo record, Debut.  A steady stream of innovative albums and music videos followed, defining her unclassifiable blend of electronica, pop, jazz, and exotica–or, as she calls it, " Björk music."  In 2004, Bjork released her newest album Medulla, made mainly with her own voice processed through various electronic effects.     Bio adapted from the iTunes music store

Dmitri Shostakovich belongs to the generation of composers trained principally after the Communist Revolution of 1917. He graduated from the St. Petersburg Conservatory as a pianist and composer, his First Symphony winning immediate favor. His subsequent career in Russia varied with the political climate. The initial success of his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District, based on Leskov, and later revised as Katerina Ismailova, was followed by official condemnation, emanating apparently from Stalin himself. The composer's Fifth Symphony, in 1937, brought partial rehabilitation, while the war years offered a propaganda coup in the Leningrad Symphony, performed in the city under German siege. In 1948 he fell foul of the official musical establishment with a Ninth Symphony thought to be frivolous, but enjoyed the relative freedom following the death of Stalin in 1953. Outwardly and inevitably conforming to official policy, posthumous information suggests that Shostakovich remained very critical of Stalinist dictates, particularly with regard to music and the arts. He occupies a significant position in the 20th century as a symphonist and as a composer of chamber music, writing in a style that is sometimes spare in texture but always accessible, couched as it is in an extension of traditional tonal musical language.     Bio from www.naxos.com

C.S. Lewis was a professor of medieval and Renaissance literature at Oxford and Cambridge universities who wrote well-known books such as The Screwtape Letters and The Chronicles of Narnia.

Moya Cannon’s poetry has received the Brendan Behan Memorial Prize, and her work has been published by Salmon Publishing and Gallery Press. She lives in Galway, Ireland.

Michael Sells is a professor of religion at Haverford College.  He is the author of books on subjects including Islamic Mysticism, genocide in Bosnia, and Arabic literature. 

 

Our Performers
Estelle Choi (Cellist, Yale School of Music)
Laura Esnaola (Violinist, Yale School of Music)
Mellissa Hughes (Soprano, Yale School of Music/Institute of Sacred Music)
Steven Gearhart (Conductor, Yale School of Music/ISM)
Noelia Gomez (Violist, Yale School of Music)
Caroline Shaw (Violinist, Yale School of Music)

The Organizers
Robinson McClellan (Composer, Yale School of Music/ISM)
Matthew Haugen (Yale Divinity School/ISM)
Mellissa Hughes (Soprano, Yale School of Music/ISM)

Special thanks to:
Patrick Evans, Margot Fassler, and all of the staff and faculty
at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music
Susan Jeanette, for providing some excellent homemade delectables
and Matthew Haugen for providing the reception
All of the performers and readers
And many others whose advice, encouragement, and logistical support have made this possible