Six Meditations from Bonhoeffer

a concert suite for men’s choir

with solo violin, cello, piano, and vibraphone

duration – 25 minutes

to request a perusal score click here

A suite of six meditations from the complete choral-theater work Bonhoeffer. These selected movements capture the essence of the theatrical version in a way that enables the music to be sung in concert by a men’s choir of any size.  

                  I.               I discovered later (original movement 1)

I discovered later, and I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith.  One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a … sinner, ….a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one.… In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world – watching with Christ in Gethsemane.  That, I think, is …. metanoia;… - [Letter to Bethge from Tegel – July 21, 1944 (day after failure of Stauffenberg plot (LPP p 369-70/486))].

musical reference: Franz Schubert, “Gute Ruh”(final lied of Die Schöne Müllerin - Bonhoeffer wrote a piano trio arrangement of this song as a teenager, and often performed piano trios with his brother Klaus and cousin Rüdiger Schleicher among others)

                  II.             Life, what have you done to me (original movement 3)

Life, what have you done to me?
Why did you come? Why did you go?
Past, when you flee from me,
Are you not still my past, my own? (from the poem, “The Past” – Letters and Papers from Prison 321/419)

                  III.           The Beatitudes (excerpted from original movement 8)

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst to do what is right,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for doing what is right,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you,
persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad! [Matthew 5:3-12]

                  IV.           Night Voices in Tegel (original movement 9)

Night and silence.
I listen.
Only the steps and cries of the guards,
The distant, hidden laughter of two lovers.
Do you hear nothing else, lazy sleeper?

I hear my own soul tremble and heave.
Nothing else?........

But my ear is open wide:
‘We the old, the young,
The sons of all tongues,
We the strong, the weak,
The sleepers, the wakeful,
We the poor, the rich,
Alike in misfortune,
The good, the bad,
Whatever we have been,
We men of many scars,
We the witnesses of those who died,
We the defiant, we the despondent,
The innocent, and the much accused,
Deeply tormented by long isolation,
Brother, we are searching, we are calling you!
Brother, do you hear me?’ [LPP: pp 349-351/462-463.]

                  V.             The Past (original movement 11)

O happiness beloved, and pain beloved in heaviness,
You went from me.
What shall I call you? Anguish, life, blessedness,
Part of myself, my heart – the past?

The door was slammed;
I hear your steps depart and slowly die away.
What now remains for me – torment, delight, desire?
This only do I know: that with you, all has gone.

But do you feel how I now grasp at you
And so clutch hold of you
That it must hurt you?
…simply to be sure that you are near me,
a life in earthly form, complete?

Do you divine my terrible desire
For my own suffering,
My eager wish to see my own blood flow,
Only that all may not go under,
Lost in the past?

text from poem to Maria “The Past” verse 1 (LPP p. 320)
form and melodic outline freely adapted from Schubert’s “
Wasserflut” from Winterreise. 

                  VI.           Who am I? (original movement 15)

Ist Gott für mich,                                   [If God is for me,
so trete Gleich alles wider mich.         I can withstand all enemies
So oft ich ruf’ und bête,                        As often as I call and pray
Weicht alles hinter sich.                        They all flee away.

Hab’ ich das Haupt zum Freunde         If I have [Christ] the head as friend
und bin geliebt bei Gott                        and am beloved by God
Was kann mir tun der Feinde                what can the enemy and           
und Widersacher Rott’?                        adversary do to me?]

Who am I? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptibly sad weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

 Who am I?  They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, thou knowest, O God, I am thine.  (LPP 348)

 musical references: “Ist Gott für mich” (text, Gerhardt; tune “Augsburg”)
Schubert, “Gute Ruh” from
Die Schöne Müllerin
“Swing low, sweet chariot” (traditional)