• John Harbison
  • But Mary Stood (2005)

  • Associated Music Publishers Inc (World)

But Mary Stood is part of the 'Sacred Trilogy'

  • str (single or small orchestra)
  • SMzATBarB chorus
  • Soprano[=Mezzo-soprano]
  • 19 min
  • English; Bible:
  • English

Programme Note


Composer's note:

But Mary Stood (2005) was commissioned by the Cantata Singers in honor of David Rockefeller, Jr.

It begins with a Prelude for string orchestra, actually composed last. It is a summary of many of the musical questions posed in the other movements.

Next come two choral motets, both resulting from requests from important women in my life: my mother-in-law and my mother. These women were both political activists and religious seekers. They asked me (many years ago) to memorialize them with settings of their favorite scriptural passages.

The word "Charity" frames the text from Corinthians and is set as a symmetrical musical emblem, held by forces from above and below. More ambiguous harmonies describe various states of incomplete knowledge.

In Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled the aural picture contrasts the idea of the Consoled, remaining behind, with Christ in His upward journey.

Much of this music was composed while working with the Cantata Singers on Bach's St. John Passion. There, at the moment of Jesus' death, the two Marys move to the center of the stage. Jesus' words to John, "Behold your mother," ignited the power of the anima in the prayers and iconography of early Christianity.

Mary Magdalene, her presence both contrasting and complementary to Jesus' mother, is the first to see that the tomb is empty, the first to meet the risen Christ, the first to report it. ("Do not touch me," says Christ in the King James version. "Cease clinging to me," is the 1976 translation by the Catholic Council.) John, the last gospel writer, responds to the longing for the Eternal Feminine: compassion, approachability, and sensuality.

My concluding movement, But Mary Stood, for soprano, double choir, and string orchestra, proposes the soloist as both Narrator and Mary, the double choir as Jesus. These three characters each have their own vocabulary, family related. The setting envisions a Mary Magdalene who was the true intimate of Jesus, who understood, intellectually and intuitively, his purpose on earth.

In composing a piece to honor longtime Cantata Singers leader and colleague David Rockefeller I resolved to make something that would live close to the center of the themes typically associated with the Cantata Singers. All of us who have been involved with this organization have been grateful for the places the subject matter has taken us. This was at the heart of David’s devotion to the group, and I feel privileged to be able to add to our common legacy.

— John Harbison

View Score