God's List of Liquids (2014)
"God's List of Liquids"
by Anne Carson from "The Truth About God"
First published in Glass, Irony & God (NDP808)
It was a November night of wind.
Leaves tore past the window.
God had the book of life open at PLEASURE
and was holding the pages down with one hand
because of the wind from the door.
For I made their flesh as a sieve
wrote God at the top of the page and then listed in order:
Copyright © Anne Carson, 1992
"God only speaks in Bach," Samuel Adler told me when I showed him this poem and told him I wanted to set it for my commission from the NYVS. I had been looking for a poem by a living author for my NYVS commission. I had scoured the most obvious choices and also took people’s suggestions down the most unlikely paths. I found nothing that I really wanted to do until I came by a strange and brilliant book called Glass, Irony & God, by Anne Carson, full of hard-to-categorize “poems,” “essays” … a traveler’s guide to the fall of Rome?
I was looking for something transparent in a single read while also peculiar and intriguing. I was also looking for something that to me makes sense for a chorus, or as I see it, a kind of cross-section, 16 members large, of our society, to sing. “God’s List of Liquids,” Carson’s account of God listing words under the entry “pleasure” in the “book of life,” fit the bill; I knew on my first reading of the poem.
It was my first time writing for a cappella mixed chorus. In dipping my toes in, I tried a number of varying approaches to using the chorus. There is thick counter point at some points, complete harmonic stasis in others, words of the poem spoken by members of the chorus, and the Bach chorale for the hand and voice of God. Sometimes words from the text bluster about, like the “November wind”; other times single syllables last for longer stretches of time, drawing out the act of looking at the open book and inscribing a list of words on the page called “pleasure.”
The piece was premiered at Merkin Hall in New York City on November 15, 2014 by the New York Virtuoso Singers conducted by Harold Rosenbaum.