Music by James Primosch (b.1956)

Words by Jon M. Sweeney and Mark S. Burrows, after a text by Meister Eckhart (1260-1328)

Commissioned by The Crossing and Donald Nally. Premiered by Emmanuel Music, Ryan Turner, conducting, at Emmanuel Church, Boston MA, December 21, 2019.


There is a journey you must take.

It is a journey without destination.

There is no map.

Your soul will lead you.

And you can take nothing with you.


–From Meister Eckhart’s Book of the Heart: Meditations for the Restless Soul © 2017 by Jon M. Sweeney and Mark S. Burrows, used with permission from Hampton Roads Publishing c/o Red Wheel Weiser LLC, Newburyport MA (redwheelweiser.com)



Music by James Primosch

Words by Marilynne Robinson (b. 1943)

Commissioned by The Crossing and Donald Nally and premiered October 27, 2018 at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia PA


a note from the composer:

I first came upon the text for Carthage from the novel Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, when it was quoted in Christian Wiman’s book My Bright Abyss. Wiman rightly speaks of the text as being “of consummate clarity and beauty,” going on to say how it “so perfectly articulate[s] not only the sense of absence... but also bestow[s] on it an energy and agency, a prayerful but indefinable promise: ‘the world will be made whole.’” It was this combination of absence and promise, lack and fullness, that attracted me and led me to music of sober reflection and wild joy.




Imagine a Carthage sown with salt, and all the sowers gone, and the seeds lain however long in the earth, till there rose finally in vegetable profusion leaves and trees of rime and brine. What flowering would there be in such a garden? Light would force each salt calyx to open in prisms, and to fruit heavily with bright globes of water — peaches and grapes are little more than that, and where the world was salt there would be greater need of slaking. For need can blossom into all the compensations it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweet as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is foreshadowing — the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.


–Excerpt from Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. Copyright © 1981 by Marilynne Robinson. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.


Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus

Music by James Primosch

Words by Denise Levertov (1923-1997) and from the Latin Ordinary of the Mass


Commissioned by The Crossing and Donald Nally, and made possible with support from the Knight Foundation. Premiered June 28, 2014 at the Icebox Project Space at CraneArts, Philadelphia PA


a note from the composer:

This work is part of a long tradition of Mass settings that juxtapose additional poems with the standard Latin texts; Requiems of Benjamin Britten and Christopher Rouse are recent examples, though the practice of poetic insertions originated many centuries ago. I have assigned the Latin texts (excerpts in the case of the “Credo”) to a group of four solo singers while the main choir sings excerpts from a cycle of poems by Denise Levertov inspired by the Mass texts. The Latin settings are in the manner of various forms of liturgical music, and include quotations of a Bach chorale and Gregorian chant.


The title of my piece is that of the Levertov cycle. St. Thomas Didymus is the apostle Thomas, with the designation “Didymus” meaning “the twin.” Thomas is informally known as “doubting Thomas” because of his insistence on seeing and touching Jesus before he would believe in the Resurrection. Upon subsequently seeing Christ, he acknowledged him as “My Lord and my God.” A Mass honoring St. Thomas is a Mass that honors the juxtaposition of doubt and belief that is the basis of life in pursuit of the divine. The simple pair of twin statements in Levertov’s reflection on the “Credo” is the pivot of the work:


“I believe and

interrupt my belief with

doubt. I doubt and

interrupt my doubt with belief.”


Note: ellipses (.....) indicate where cuts have been made in the texts


I. Kyrie


O deep unknown, guttering candle,

beloved nugget lodged

in the obscure heart’s

last recess,

have mercy upon us.


We choose from the past, tearing morsels to feed

pride or grievance.

We live in terror

of what we know:


death, death, and the world’s

death we imagine

and cannot imagine,

we who may be

the first and last witness.


We live in terror

of what we do not know,

in terror of not knowing,

of the limitless, through which freefalling

forever, our dread

sinks and sinks,


of the violent closure of all


Yet our hope lies

in the unknown,

in our unknowing.


O deep, remote unknown,

O deep, unknown,

Have mercy upon us.




Kyrie eleison.

Christe eleison.

Kyrie eleison.


Lord, have mercy

Christ, have mercy

Lord, have mercy


II. Gloria


Praise the wet snow

     falling early.

Praise the shadow

     my neighbor’s chimney casts on the tile roof

even this gray October day that should, they say,

have been golden.


the invisible sun burning beyond

     the white cold sky, giving us

light and the chimney’s shadow


god or the gods, the unknown,

that which imagined us, which stays

our hand,

our murderous hand,

and give us


in the shadow of death,

our daily life,

and the dream still

of goodwill, of peace on earth.


flow and change, night and

the pulse of day.




Gloria in excelsis Deo. Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.


Laudamus te; benedicimus te; adoramus te; glorificamus te. Gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam.


Domine Deus, Rex coelestis, Deus Pater omnipotens. Domine Fili unigenite Jesu Christe. Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris.


Qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis. Qui tollis peccata mundi, suscipe deprecationem nostram. Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris, O miserere nobis.


Quoniam tu solus Sanctus, tu solus Dominus, tu solus altissimus, Jesu Christe. Cum Sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris.




Glory be to God in the highest. And on earth peace to men of good will. We praise You; we bless You; we adore You; we glorify You. We give You thanks for Your great glory.


Lord God, Heavenly King, God the Father Almighty. O Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son. Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father.


You that take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. You that take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer. You that sit at the right hand of the Father, have mercy upon us.


For You only are the Holy One, You alone are the Lord, You alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ. Together with the Holy Ghost in the glory of God the Father.




III. Credo


I believe the earth

exists, and

in each minim mote

of its dust the holy

glow of thy candle.


unknown I know,

thou spirit,


lover of making, of the

wrought letter,

wrought flower,

iron, deed, dream.

Dust of the earth,

help thou my

unbelief. Drift,

gray become gold, in the beam of

vision. I believe and

interrupt my belief with

doubt. I doubt and

interrupt my doubt with belief. Be,

belovéd, threatened world.

     Each minim



the ordinary glow

of common dust in ancient sunlight.

Be, that I may believe. Amen.




Credo in unum Deum; Patrem omnipotentem, factorem coeli et terrae


Credo in unum Dominum Jesum Christum


Crucifixus etiam pro nobis


Credo in Spiritum Sanctum



Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum et vitam venturi sæculi. Amen.



[I believe in one God; the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth


I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ


Who was crucified for us


I believe in the Holy Spirit


I await the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.]


IV. Sanctus


Powers and principalities—all the gods,

angels and demigods, eloquent animals, oracles,

storms of blessing and wrath—


 all that Imagination

 has wrought, has rendered,

 striving, in throes of epiphany—


 naming, forming—to give

 to the Vast Loneliness

 a hearth, a locus—


send forth their song towards

the harboring silence, uttering

the ecstasy of their names, the multiform

name of the Other, the known

Unknown, unknowable:



Blesséd is that which comes in the name of the spirit,

that which bears

the spirit within it.


The name of the spirit is written

in woodgrain, windripple, crystal,


in crystals of snow, in petal, leaf,

moss and moon, fossil and feather,


blood, bone, song, silence,

very word of

very word,

flesh and




Blesséd is that which utters

its being,

the stone of stone,

the straw of straw,

       for there

spirit is.



be the dust. From dust the world

utters itself. We have no other

hope, no knowledge.

  The word

chose to become

flesh. In the blur of flesh

we bow, baffled.




Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth.

Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.

Osanna in excelsis.

Benedictus qui venit

in nomine Domini.

Osanna in excelsis.


Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of hosts.

Heaven and earth are full of your glory

Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is he who comes

in the name of the Lord

Hosanna in the highest.


V. Agnus Dei



What terror lies concealed

in strangest words, O lamb

of God that taketh away

the Sins of the World:



                                                  God then,

 encompassing all this, is

 defenceless? Omnipotence

 has been tossed away, reduced

 to a wisp of damp wool




 must protect this perversely weak

 animal, whose muzzle’s nudgings

 suppose there is milk to be found in us?

 Must hold to our icy hearts

 a shivering God?


So be it.

    Come, rag of pungent


 dim star.

           Let’s try

 if something human still

 can shield you,


 of remote light.




Agnus Dei,

qui tollis peccata mundi,

miserere nobis.

Agnus Dei,

qui tollis peccata mundi,

dona nobis pacem.


Lamb of God

who takes away the sins of the world,

have mercy on us.

Lamb of God

who takes away the sins of the world,

grant us peace.



–“Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus” by Denise Levertov. From Candles in Babylon, copyright ©1982 by Denise Levertov. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.


spiralling ecstatically

music by James Primosch

words by e.e. cummings (1894-1962)

Premiered by Emmanuel Music, Craig Smith conducting, at Emmanuel Church, Boston MA, December 6, 1998.


from spiralling ecstatically this


proud nowhere of earth’s most prodigious night

blossoms a newborn babe: around him, eyes

—gifted with every keener appetite

than mere unmiracle can quite appease—

humbly in their imagined bodies kneel

(over time space doom dream while floats the whole


perhapsless mystery of paradise)


mind without soul may blast some universe

to might have been, and stop ten thousand stars

but not one heartbeat of this child; nor shall

even prevail a million questionings

against the silence of his mother’s smile


—whose only secret all creation sings


from spiralling ecstatically this by e.e. cummings © 1962 Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Used by permission.


Two Arms of the Harbor

music by James Primosch

words by Thomas Merton (1915-1968)

Premiered by Emmanuel Music, Ryan Turner conducting, at Emmanuel Church, Boston MA, May 1, 2011


I dreamt I was lost in a great city and was walking “toward the center” without quite knowing where I was going. Suddenly I came to a dead end, but on a height, looking at a great bay, an arm of the harbor. I saw a whole section of the city spread out before me on hills covered with light snow, and realized that, though I had far to go, I knew where I was: because in this city there are two arms of the harbor and they help you to find your way, as you are always encountering them.


–from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by Thomas Merton, copyright © 1965, 1966 by the Abbey of Gethsemani. Used with permission of the Merton Legacy Trust.


One with the Darkness, One with the Light

music by James Primosch

words by Wendell Berry (b. 1934)

Premiered by Emmanuel Music, Craig Smith conducting, at Emmanuel Church, Boston MA, May 14, 2006


At night make me one with the darkness.

In the morning make me one with the light.

When I rise up, let me rise joyful like a bird.

When I fall, let me fall without regret, like a leaf.

Let me wake in the night and hear it raining and go back to sleep.


–Excerpted from “Prayers and Sayings of the Mad Farmer” in the volume Collected Poems by Wendell Berry © 1970, 1984 Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. Used with permission.



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