Reflections on Art and Life
I am very excited to introduce my new composition for chamber orchestra entitled Three Laments of Heloise. The Laments were inspired by the Letters of Abelard and Heloise I read this spring. I was deeply moved by the story, especially the character of Heloise.
Although the book is frequently marketed as a forbidden love affair between a nun and a monk, I found it to be quite inaccurate as Abelard and Heloise both entered monastic life only after they were married and consequently separated.
I don’t want to divulge too much of the story line in case you might want to trace it yourself. Suffice it to say that yes, in Abelard’s Historia calamitatum and couple of Heloise’s letters the passion rages on freely, but overall the story centers around a crushing loss, self-denial, sacrifice, and conformity to the standards of medieval society.
The first movement of my composition entitled Queens Envied Me My Joys is Heloise’s recollection of early days with Abelard. “Every wife, every young girl desired you in absence and was on fire in your presence”, writes Heloise. “The pleasures of lovers which we shared have been too sweet… They are always there before my eyes, bringing with them awakened longings…”
The second movement entitled If Not With You, My Heart Is Nowhere, expresses Heloise’s sense of abandonment by her lover. She writes to him: “My heart was not in me but with you, and now, even more, if it is not with you it is nowhere; truly, without you I cannot exist.”
The third movement, My Most Wretched Soul gives voice to Heloise’s continued struggle with her loss and the reality of the convent life. She does not see herself as a servant of God, but rather a hypocrite who remains pious on the outside and rages inwardly. “Of all wretched women I am the most wretched, and amongst the unhappy I am unhappiest.” “How can it be called repentance for sins, however great the mortification of the flesh, if the mind still retains the will to sin and is on fire with its old desires?”
I have orchestrated the Laments for chamber orchestra consisting of a flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, tambourine, drum, and strings. Modal scales and dance sequences give them a Renaissance feel. Music theory students might appreciate the fact that the unifying element of the three movements is the interval of the 7th which appears very frequently in melodic and harmonic gestures and creates a feeling of ambiguity and of a lack of resolution.