Confessiones
A song cycle for mezzo-soprano with piano accompaniment to texts from St. Augustine's Confessions.

Duration: 28' 30"
Difficulty:

  • O Domine, percussisti cor meum verbo tuo (O Lord, thou didst strike my heart with thy word)
  • Ego sum qui sum (I am that I am)
  • O Pulchritudo (O Beauty)
  • Deus creator omnium (God, Creator of all)
  • O Domine, quia fecisit nos ad te (O Lord, thou hast made us for thyself)

Click here to view the score.
Notes
Augustine was a Latin-speaking philosopher and theologian who lived in the Roman Africa Province between 354 and 430 AD. He converted to Christianity in 387 and eventually became the Bishop of Hippo Regius (present-day Algeria). His writings were very influential in the development of Western Christianity and he is uniquely honored by Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians alike. His signature work, Confessions, is often credited as the world’s first autobiography.

Confessiones is a cycle made up of five songs, each with a Latin title taken directly from Augustine’s work. In terms of Augustine’s life journey, the work is not organized chronologically – rather, each song speaks to an aspect of his engagement with life and relationship with his God. Here are a few things to listen for in each song:

I. O Domine, percussisti cor meum verbo tuo (O Lord, thou didst strike my heart with thy word)

There are two primary features to notice in this song, both signaled by the piano: First, the “bells,” calling Augustine out into a new way, and secondly, a striding motif signifying his journey from what he would call the City of Man to the City of God.

II. Ego sum qui sum (I am that I am)

The second song begins with the words God speaks in the Torah when Moses asks for His name: “I am that I am.” I have articulated it first as a sovereign declaration, then as a still, small voice. According to Augustine, there is only one being in the universe who can speak these words with perfect integrity. In the course of the song, you hear them uttered in English, Latin, Greek and Hebrew – languages that travel back in time. They frame three episodes in which Augustine speaks of his love for God in ecstatic, visionary terms. Many of us think of spirituality in music as best expressed in quiet stillness. But there is another set of spiritual metaphors strewn throughout the Old and New Testaments that Augustine loved, metaphors full of color and contrast, joyous celebration moving to the rhythms of dance. In Ego sum qui sum, Augustine’s passionate words have inspired music of this kind.

III. O Pulchritudo (O Beauty)

This song is the centerpiece of the cycle, the heart at the crux of our creative vision. It is a penitential lament, echoing the words “sero te amavi,” “how late have I loved you.” In adapting the text, I created a poem of eight stanzas in both Latin and English, chiming the two tongues against one another. I understand Augustine’s lament as one profoundly connected with the heart’s ache of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo: “How to keep...back beauty, keep it, beauty,... from vanishing away.” It also resonates with C. S. Lewis’ powerful sermon, The Weight of Glory, which speaks of humankind’s “inconsolable secret,” a longing for “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” Augustine, Hopkins and Lewis all believed that someday “time’s nature will no more defeat you, nor all the promised moments in their passing cheat you.”

IV. Deus, creator omnium (God, Creator of all)

The opening and closing portions of this text actually belong to a hymn by Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, whom Augustine knew and quoted in the Confessions. In like manner, I have set it to music as a hymn, though related in character more to the mediaeval Agincourt Hymn than to the hymns of Charles Wesley or Fannie Crosby. The text also contains insights about time, the body and the voice, as well as to books, the law and the city, all aspects of human civilization, though viewed by Augustine from a divine perspective.

V. O Domine, quia fecisti nos ad te (O Lord, thou hast made us for thyself)

The fifth song moves directly from the fourth without a break. One thing to note is the musical collapse and restart near the end of the song, underlining the recognition that all human efforts, however well intentioned or appointed, ultimately fall short of fulfillment. The restless heart that aches and hopes against hope for the gift of rest is one of the deepest shared experiences of our humanity.
Text
Adapted by J.A.C. Redford from The Confessions of St. Augustine

I. O Domine, percussisti cor meum verbo tuo

O Lord, thou didst strike my heart with thy word and I did love thee.
O Lord, thou didst strike my heart with thy word and I did love thee.
O Lord, thou didst strike my heart with thy word and I did love thee.

O Truth, O Light of my heart,...I had fallen into...darkness.... But...even in its depths, I came to love you....I heard your voice behind me, bidding me return, though I could scarcely hear it for the tumults of my boisterous passions. And now, behold, I am returning, burning and thirsting after thy fountain. Let no one hinder me; here will I drink and so have life.

O Lord, thou didst strike my heart with thy word and I did love thee.
O Lord, thou didst strike my heart with thy word and I did love thee.
O Domine, percussisti cor meum verbo tuo, et amavi te.


II. Ego sum qui sum

Ego sum qui sum.
I am that I am.

...and with the eye of my soul...[I] saw above...my mind the Immutable Light....He who knows the Truth knows that Light, and he who knows it knows eternity. Love knows it, O Eternal Truth and True Love and Beloved Eternity!

And you cried to me from afar,...
Ego sum qui sum.

And I heard this, as things are heard in the heart, and there was no room for doubt. I should have more readily doubted that I am alive than that the truth exists–the truth which is “clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.”

And you cried to me from afar,...
Ego eimi.

You are my God, to whom I sigh both night and day. [You] beat back the weakness of my sight, shining forth upon me dazzling beams of light, and I trembled with love and fear....I heard your voice from on high: “I am the food of strong men; grow and you shall feed on me; nor shall you change me, like the food of your flesh into yourself, but you shall be changed into my likeness.”

You cried to me from afar,...
Ehiyeh asher ehiyeh
I am that I am.


III. O Pulchritudo

O Pulchritudo, O Beauty, O Beauty,
sero Te amavi, so late, so late have I
loved You, O Beauty, so ancient and so new,
tam antiqua et tam nova, sero Te amavi,
so late, so late have I loved You, O Beauty.

Et ecce intus eras, eras, and You were
within, within, et ego foris, and I was
without, without, sero Te amavi,
O Beauty, et ibi Te quaerebam, I sought,
I sought for You there, I sought for You there.

Et in ista formosa quae fecisti deformis
inruebam, unlovely, I rushed heedless, heedless
among the lovely things You have made, sero Te
amavi, so late, so late have I loved You,
O Beauty, amavi, so late have I loved You.

Mecum eras, mecum eras,
You were with me, O Beauty, with me,
et tecum non eram, tecum non eram,
but I was not with You, so late have I loved You,
O Beauty, so late, sero Te amavi.

Ea me tenebant longe a Te,
the lovely things You made kept me far from You,
quae si in Te non essent, non essent,
though they were not, unless they were in You,
sero Te amavi, so late have I loved You.

You cried and you clamored, vocasti et clamasti,
et rupisti surditatem meam, You broke through my
deafness, You shone, coruscasti, You splendored,
You, splenduisti, O Beauty, et fugasti
caecitatem meam,You put to flight my blindness.

You breathed out a fragrance, fragrasti, et duxi
spiritum et anhelo tibi, and I breathed You
in, now I long for You, gustavi,
I tasted, et esurio et sitio, I hunger
and thirst, tetigisti me, You touched me.

Et exarsi in pacem Tuam, I
burned for Your peace, O Beauty,
in pacem Tuam, I burned, I burned
for your peace, so late have I loved You,
sero Te amavi, O Beauty, O Beauty.


IV. Deus, creator omnium

Deus, creator omnium,
Polique rector, vestiens
Diem decoro lumine,
Noctem sopora gratia;

God, creator of all,
Ruler of the heavens,
You dress the day in lovely light,
And the night with gracious sleep.

Yours is the day, yours the night,
a sign from you sends minutes speeding by;
spare in their fleeting course a space for us
to ponder the hidden wonders of your law:
shut it not against us as we knock.

Lo, your voice is joy to me,
your voice that rings out above a flood of joys.
Give me what I love:
for I love indeed, and this love you have given me.
Forsake not your gifts, disdain not your parched grass.
Let me confess to you all I have found in your books.
Let me hear the voice of praise,
and drink from you,
and contemplate the wonders of your law
from the beginning when you made heaven and earth
to that everlasting reign
when we shall be with you in your holy city.

God, creator of all,
Ruler of the heavens,
You dress the day in lovely light,
And the night with gracious sleep,

Artus solutos ut quies
Redat laboris usui
Mentesque fessas allevet,
Luctusque solvat anxios.

So rest restores wearied limbs
To useful work,
Eases tired minds
And undoes heavy griefs.


V. O Domine, quia fecisti nos ad te

O God, you have made us for yourself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in you.
O God, you have made us for yourself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in you.
O God, you have made us for yourself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in you.

O Christ Jesus, “my Strength and my Redeemer,” how sweet did it suddenly become to me to be without the sweetness of trifles! And it was now a joy to put away what I formerly feared to lose. For you cast them away from me, O true and highest Sweetness. You cast them away, and in their place you entered in yourself–sweeter than all pleasure,...and I prattled like a child to you, Lord my God, my light, my riches, and my salvation.

O God, you have made us for yourself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in you.
O God, you have made us for yourself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in you.
O Domine, quia fecisti nos ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te.
Commission & Performance History
Confessiones had its dual premiere on 21 and 26 October 2011 at Westmont College and Biola University in California. Kate Butler, Chair of the Voice Area at the University of Nebraska, was the vocalist and Elizabeth King Redford the accompanist.
Reviews & Responses
“I am no musician, of course, and I can only say what I felt and thought as I listened, but one month later and I am still wrapped in the experience of Confessiones. The song cycle has a text adopted from Augustine’s Confessions, a book I teach every year and so I at least can comment with some knowledge on it. Redford and Butler took a superficially easy book filled with “digressions” of profound philosophy and captured much of the simplicity and complexity in music. They don’t just deal with the autobiographical parts, but the theology and philosophy. Most significant for me was the illuminating use of music to deal with Augustine’s view of time and timelessness. It was the first moment I felt Augustine’s idea and not just thought about it....It is “O Pulchritudo” that haunts me still. It is haunting, complex, and has only the flaw of ending too quickly. When it ends with the words “sero Te amavi, O Beauty, O Beauty” as sung by Butler, I strained to catch the last note and wanted more.” (John Mark Reynolds, “Beauty in Changing Times,” from The Scriptorium Daily, 8 December 2011)