Lewis Spratlan


2000 Pulitzer Prize winner, Spratlan knows The Crossing through his Vespers Cantata, which we commissioned in 2011 with Network for New Music; a concert-length work on a libretto assembled from physicists, playwrights, poets, and liturgy, finding rich emotional depths and connections in otherwise unrelated texts, it was enormously successful with singers and audience members; thus he comes to mind immediately for this project. Lewis will respond to Buxtehude's fifth cantata, TO THE BREAST - premiering Saturday night June 25. He is collaborating with poet Paul Kane (learn about Paul here  ...and about his poetry here)

Lewis Spratlan (USA) is the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards, including Guggenheim, Rockefeller, and NEA fellowships; an American Academy of Arts and Letters composer award; and the 2000 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his opera Life is a Dream, premiered by the Santa Fe Opera in 2010.  Producing new works at a prodigious rate, the last half-decade has seen the premieres of: Wonderer (commissioned by pianist Jonathan Biss and performed frequently in the United States and Europe); Shadow (commissioned by cellist Matt Haimovitz and performed more than fifty times in the U.S., Canada, and Europe; on the Oxingale CD “After Contemplating Shakespeare”); Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra (a consortium commission performed in Holland MI, Athens GA, and Long Beach CA; BMOP Sound CD release, 2012); Architect (a chamber opera drawn from the life and work of Louis Kahn - video version screened in New York, Chicago, New Haven, Fort Worth; Parma CD/DVD release 2012); Elephant Rocks (nine a cappella choral songs on poems by Kay Ryan premiered in Amherst MA – Yale University, October 2012); A Summer’s Day (Boston Modern Orchestra Project Commission; BMOP Sound CD release, 2012); Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano (Albany CD release, Spring 2013); City Song (double chorus SATB/SATB; commissioned by the Yale Glee Club for its 150th anniversary; poem by Elizabeth Alexander); Process/Bulge (chamber ensemble; commissioned by Wet Ink; New York April 2011); Travels (commissioned by the Rutgers University Glee Club; South Hadley MA, New Brunswick NJ); Vespers Cantata: Hesperus is Phosphorus (a 65-minute, nine-movement work for chorus SATB and chamber sextet, commissioned by The Crossing and Philadelphia’s Network for New Music; Philadelphia and New York, June, 2012; Navona CD release 2015).

To learn more about Lewis, visit his website.

Lewis Spratlan discusses his work for Seven Responses.

Lewis' Libretto


one of seven responses to Buxtehude’s
Membra Jesu Nostri

 Libretto by Paul Kane
Music by Lewis Spratlan


Choir               See how the light falls upon the land! 
                           Glorious day!

Echo                                        Gloria Dei!

Choir               Feel the gentle breeze that scents the air,
                           Beautiful day!

Echo                                        Beata Dei!

Choir               Hear the hum of Nature and the song of birds,
                           Miraculous day!

Echo                                        Miraculum Dei!

Choir               Savor the air with its taste of Spring,
                           Celestial day!

Echo                                        Caelum Dei!

Choir               But look, here come Angelica and Tomás,
                           with love in their eyes.

Echo                                        Love in their eyes!






Angelica           This world of beauty makes me sad.
                             Yet its loveliness fills my heart with joy -
                             joy mixed with sorrow
                             sorrow mixed with these happy tears.

Tomás               Angelica, do not cry, or if you must
                             do it here on my consoling breast.

Angelica           Oh it’s not for me only that I cry—what’s my life
                             but part of the life around me, and within?
                             Love, as open as the Earth, bares
                             its breast and sings, “There is no time.”

Tomás               No time to waste—seize the moment
                             as it flickers by!  Let us be One!

Angelica           We are already, don’t you see?
                             Light makes the dappled shade,
                             breezes rise out of stillness,
                             silence encompasses sound.

Tomás [aside]  I cannot bear this bittersweet love.
                             The toxic world has made her ill
                             and yet she sings its praise and turns
                             from me, who desires only her.

Angelica           But listen, underneath there is a melancholy strain:
                             we have done much harm.  There is a murmur of pain.






Women     This world of beauty makes us sad.
                      So much is passing, never to come again.

Men            So much has passed, that ages labored to make,
                     unmade by man, who labors for gain.

Women    We murmur in pain against the stars,
                     why should fate have brought us this end?

Men           The stars are silent, distant and cold—
                     it is we ourselves we have condemned.

All             The seas are rising, the ground on fire,
                    wells are poisoned, the air full of grief.

                   Blindly at the crossroads we have slain
                   our mother: we howl among ashes of disbelief

Women   Darker the world—that was made from light—
                    weeping wounds have stained its breast.

Men          Death, that was natural, has turned unreal—
                   man-made, uncreated, unblessed.

All             Light is failing, there are cries in the night,
                   we become like children frantic with fright.






Tomás [aside]   We are running out of time, each week
                              a new phase waning like the moon.
                             How can I live when her life is all but over?
                             Full to half, from half to crescent moon.

Angelica           Look in the sky, the moon in broad daylight,
                             ghostly, diminished, but ever-present even so. 
                             I’ll be the Moon and you the Sun
                             and our child will be the Earth,
                             half in darkness, half in light.

Choir                 Remorse is the darkness, remorse is the light,
                             out of night comes day, if we turn to face forward—
                             starlight, moonlight will lead the way.

Tomás               Angelica, you are the Sun and I the Moon
                            reflecting the glory I see for what it is:
                            joyous and shining in the midst of sorrows,
                            life is what you love, the life we all share.

Angelica          Tomás, we are the life that lives within us,
                            that lives without us—there is no other.
                            Tomás, we are the Earth, there is no Other,
                            our lives are one with lives around us.

Choir               Remorse is the darkness, remorse the light,
                           we turn to life rising in the breast of the world.

                          Rise up!  Rise up!
                          Light falls upon the land!
                          Gloria, glorious Day!

                         Rise up! Rise up!
                         Let us heal Earth’s wounds! 
                         Gloria Dei!  Glorious Day!
                         Out of darkness comes day!  Glorious Day!

All                   We are the Earth, there is no Other,
                         rejoice to know the worst,
                         a single star can pierce the night.

                        We are the Earth, there is no Other,
                        rejoice to know the best,
                        life is the heart that beats within our breast. 

                        Take hands, take heart!
                        What comes to pass will pass
                        like a shadow moving across the world. 

                        Take hands, take heart!
                        Only light can cast shadows,
                        only light, only light! 

                        Rise up! Rise up!
                        Life beats within the breast,
                        Glorious Darkness, Glorious Day!