Ash-Wednesday (2001)

Six Meditations after T.S. Eliot
flute/alto flute and piano
18 min.

  1. I do not hope to turn again
  2. The Garden where all love ends
  3. At the first turning of the second stair
  4. Through a bright cloud of tears
  5. Against the word the unstilled world still whirled
  6. The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying

Ever since my first reading of T.S. Eliot’s Ash-Wednesday late in 1998, I had found it attractive and very moving, but without quite knowing why. Certainly, I was drawn to Eliot’s use of musical imagery, but I also knew that the poem had had a deep spiritual impact on me, the significance of which would only become apparent over time. It was not until my own questions about the world had led me to the study of Zen Buddhism that I felt I finally understood Eliot’s words. The request from the flute-piano duo ‘Essence’ for a new recital piece also spurred the creation of this work, as the flute is a prominent image in the poem.

Although Eliot’s point of departure had been the Christian liturgy, I heard at the core of Ash-Wednesday a fundamentally Eastern perspective: the desire to put aside all thoughts of personal aggrandizement, to shed the passions of the corporeal world, to exist neither in hope nor despair, but to ultimately dissolve the self into the ever-fluid present, the now where all things are one. This impassioned prayer became my own as I wrote the music, not attempting to musically translate the narrative of each of the six sections of the poem, but only to capture their general atmosphere. Although the six movements are based on the same ideas, the character of each is vastly different: now ritualistic, now tender, malevolent, innocent, cold or distant, the individual parts are cumulative steps in the journey to a state where experience has no quality, but only is.