Stoic Cantata, version with organ

Setting Excerpts from the 'Meditations' of Marcus Aurelius (translated by Martin Hammond)

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page one of Stoic Cantata, version with organ

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Marc Stauch, Stoic Cantata, setting excerpts from Marcus Aurelius' 'Meditations' (trans. Martin Hammond)

Movements/Text: the numbers in square brackets denote the relevant chapter/paragraph from the 'Meditations'; those in round brackets the time-point in the mp3 recording where the text is vocalized.

1. Chorus (00’00”) [2.17] (01’28”) In man’s life his time is a mere instant, (01’44”) his existence a flux, his perception fogged, his whole bodily composition rotting, (02’05”) his mind a whirligig, his fortune unpredictable, his fame unclear. (02’16”) To put it shortly: all things of the body stream away like a river, all things of the mind are dreams and delusions; (02’35”) life is warfare and a visit in a strange land; the only lasting fame is oblivion.

2. Tenor Solo (02’51”) [9.28] (02’56”) The recurrent cycles of the universe are the same, up and down, from eternity to eternity…. (03’16”) In a moment the earth will cover us all. Then the earth too will change, (03’32”) and then further successive changes to infinity. (03’41”) One reflecting on these waves of change and transformation, and the speed of their flow, (03’54”) will hold all mortal things in contempt.

3. Alto Solo (04’18”) [5.33] (04’37”) In no time at all ashes or bare bones, (04’45”) a mere name or not even a name: and if a name, only sound and echo. (05’01”) The ‘prizes’ of life empty, rotten, puny; puppies snapping at each other, children squabbling, (05’14”) laughter changing straight to tears. (05’25”) And Faith, Honour, Justice and Truth ‘fled up to Olympus from the wide-wayed earth’.

4. Chorus (05’49”) [12.32] (07’34”) What a tiny part of the boundless abyss of time has been allotted to each of us – and this is soon vanished in eternity; (08’ 22”) what a tiny part of the universal substance and the universal soul; (08’40”) how tiny in the whole earth the mere clod on which you creep. …

5. Tenor Solo (09’13”) [9.36] (09’32”) The rotting of the base material of everything. Water, dust, bones, stench. (09’52”) Again: marble is a mere deposit in the earth, gold and silver mere sediments; (10’07”) your clothing is animal hair, your purple is fish blood; and so on with all else. (10’28”) And the vital spirit is just the same, changing from this to that.

6. Alto Solo; Chorus (10’49”) [3.3] [A:] (11’04”) ….Alexander, Pompey, Julius Caesar annihilated whole cities time after time, and slaughtered tens of thousands of horse and foot in the field of battle, (11’27”) and yet the moment came for them too to depart this life. (11’38”) Heraclitis speculated long on the conflagration of the universe, but the water of dropsy filled his guts and he died caked in a poultice of cow-dung. (11’59”) Vermin were the death of Democritus, and vermin of another kind killed Socrates. [Ch:] (12’12”) What of it, then? You embarked, you set sail, you made port. (12’35”) Go ashore now. If it is to another life, nothing is empty of the gods even on that shore; (12’50”) and if it is to insensibility, you will cease to suffer pains and pleasures, no longer in thrall to a bodily vessel which is as far inferior as its servant is superior. (13’20”) One is mind and divinity; the other a clay of dust and blood.

7. Alto Solo (13’37”) [7.23] (13’49”) Universal nature uses the substance of the universe like wax, making now the model of a horse, then melting it down and using its material for a tree; next for a man; next for something else. (14’27”) Each of these subsists for only the briefest time. (14’36”) It is no more hardship for a box to be broken up than to be put together.

8. Tenor Solo (14’55”) [7.47] (15’11”) Observe the movements of the stars as if you were running their courses with them, (15’31”) and let your mind constantly dwell on the changes of the elements into each other. (16’34”) Such imaginings wash away the filth of life on the ground.

9. Chorus (17’13”) [6.15] (17’54”) Some things are hurrying to come into being, others are hurrying to be gone, and part of that which is being born is already extinguished. (18’08”) Flows and changes are constantly renewing the world, just as the ceaseless passage of time makes eternity ever young. (18’29”) In this river, then, where there can be no foothold, what should anyone prize of all that races past him? …. (18’49”) [T]his is the nature of our very lives – as transient as the exhalation of vapour from the blood or a breath drawn from the air. (19’09”) No different from a single breath taken in and returned to the air, something which we do every moment, (19’27”) no different is the giving back of your whole power of breathing – acquired at your birth just yesterday or thereabouts – to that world from which you first drew it.

10. Alto Solo (19’53”) [8.54] (20’19”) Don’t now just take your breath from the surrounding air, but take your thoughts too from the mind which embraces all things. (20’51”) The power of mind spreads everywhere and permeates no less than the air: it is there for all who want to absorb it, (21’11”) just like the air for those who can draw breath.

11. Alto and Tenor Duet (21’21”) 5.21 (21’53”) Revere the ultimate power in the universe: (22’10”) this is what makes use of all things and directs all things. (22’31”) But similarly revere the ultimate power in yourself: (22’49”) this is akin to that other power. (23’01”) In you too this is what makes use of all else, and your life is governed by it.

12. Chorus (23’21”) [12.30] (24’07”) One light of the sun, even though its path is broken by walls, mountains, innumerable other obstacles. (24’30”) One common substance, even though it is broken up into numerous forms of individual bodies. (24’48”) One animate soul, even though it is broken up into innumerable species with specific individualities. (25’13”) One intelligent soul, even though it appears divided.

13. Tenor Solo (25’55”) [5.4] (26’35”) I travel on nature’s path until I fall and find rest, breathing my last into that air from which I draw my daily breath, (27’02”) and falling on that earth that gave my father his seed, my mother her blood, my nurse her milk; the earth which for so many years has watered me day by day; (27’27”) the earth which bears my tread and all the ways in which I abuse her.

14. Chorus (27’55”) 4.23 (28’39”) Universe, your harmony is my harmony: (29’07”) nothing in your good time is too early or too late for me. (29’23”) Nature, all that your seasons bring is fruit to me: (29’38”) all comes from you, exists in you, (29’52”) returns to you…

Score ID
Year of composition
Martin Hammond
Difficult (Grades 7+)
31 minutes
Choir + keyboard
Modern classical music

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