Canticle of the Sun
Soprano and organ
Commissioned by the Twin Cities Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.
Premiere—2000, by Elizabeth Pauly and James Biery, Saint Paul, MN.
Published by MorningStar Music. Distributed by Canticle.
The parallel verses of Saint Francis’s poem suggested to me a series of variations on what could be called a Theme of Praise, a declamatory melodic idea which emphasizes fourths and fifths. After the initial presentation of the theme (“All praise to you, my Lord”), the speaker moves from extolling sun and moon to praising each of the four elements of the medieval world (wind, water, earth, fire) taking in all of creation. Because the text is concise—only a few key images per variation—it remains for the organ to develop the material through figuration, texture and registration, as well as to provide links between sections, each of which explores a different tonality. A special place is reserved for the human art of forgiveness. The vocal line here descends into its lowest register, accompanied by the simplest organ texture, before rising up again in fountains of praise.
Most high, all-powerful good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor, and every blessing.
All praise to You, my Lord, with all your creatures,
and first for Brother Sun,
who is the day and through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor;
and bears an image of You, Most High.
All praise to You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.
All praise to You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather,
through which You give life to your creatures.
All praise to You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
All praise to You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains and governs us
and who brings forth varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
All praise to You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night.
And he is beautiful and joyous and robust and strong.
All praise to You, my Lord, through those who pardon through your love,
and bear sickness and tribulation.
Blessed are those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.
Praise to You, my Lord, through Brother Sun, through Sister Moon, through Brother Wind, through Sister Water, through Brother Fire, through Mother Earth.
Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks,
and serve Him with great humility.