Vespers Cantata: Hesperus is Phosphorus

By Lewis Spratlan | For Chorus, SATB, and Chamber Ensemble | 65′

Title: Vespers Cantata: Hesperus is Phosphorus
Composer: Lewis Spratlan
Text by: David Egleman, Wallace Stevens, Richard Feynman, A.R. Ammons, the magnificat, Wallace Shawn, and, Adrienne Rich.
Year Composed: 2012
Instrumentation: For Chorus, SATB, and Chamber Ensemble
Duration: 65′
Format: Full Score, or Piano/Vocal Score
Catalog Number: OM0421

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Commissioned by Philadelphia-based ensembles The Crossing and the Network for New Music. Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times hailed the composition for its “pungently modern language… a sensual and mysterious work.” The Philadelphia Inquirer’s David Patrick Stearns wrote, “a compositional tour de force, absorbing at every turn and, indeed, the sort of work that could only come from a senior composer with great craftsmanship and complete creative fearlessness.”

The Crossing at Park Avenue Christian Church in 2012. Karsten Moran for the New York Times

Composer Lewis Spratlan and director of the premiere, Donald Nally, wrote:

The piece falls into two parts.  Three “tales of the afterlives” from David Eagleman’s Sum articulate this structure by opening it, closing Part I, and closing the entire work.  These movements serve as pillars upon which the piece is built, but beyond structure they represent progression: The Afterlife I offers hope of true equality in Heaven; in The Afterlife II God is missing and arguments about his whereabouts explode into war and carnage (“We have ascended and brought the front lines with us”); The Afterlife III entertains a world in which our atoms drift off and combine with those of myriad other beings, animate and inanimate, while retaining markers of ourselves – we expand from the corporeal to the universal.

In Big Light, following The Afterlife I, Wallace Stevens contemplates floods of moonlight under the “westward evening star.”  Paradox, in physicist Richard Feynman’s reconsideration, is coupled to Unity, A. R. Ammons’s sermon on the unattainability of unity and The Absolute.  These lead to The Afterlife II and the conclusion of Part I.

The Magnificat emerges for the first time in Esurientes, the opening number of Part II.  This unique a cappella movement evokes through its structure the filling of the hungry with good things and the rich “sent empty away.” Falling, the conclusion of Wallace Shawn’s dramatic monologue The Fever, envisions with horror a return to familiar surroundings forever changed.  Stepping Backward, Adrienne Rich’s autumnal reflections on an old love affair – noting losses but buoyed by truths uncovered – leads to The Afterlife III and a celebration of our limitless existence as members of the universal community of atoms.


Commission/Dedication: Commissioned by The Crossing, Donald Nally, Conductor, and; Network for New Music, Linda Reichert, Artistic Director.
Premiere: June 2, 2012 by The Crossing, Donald Nally, Conductor, and; Network for New Music, Linda Reichert, Artistic Director.
Recording: A 2015 Innova label recording by The Crossing choir and the Network for New Music was conducted by Donald Nally. The album is available here.

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