Program Notes for Lux Caelestis (Texts and Translations Below)


  1. Yehi-or
  2. At toi Atrem
  3. Pabhassara Sutta
  4. Gayatri Mantra
  5. Lux aeterna

        In 2004 I composed my Lux aeterna for Scott Macpherson and the Trinity University choir.  After hearing a recording of the piece from a performance in the Cologne Cathedral, I started to think about making a larger cycle that would address the subject of light from different religious perspectives all sung in original languages.  Lux Caelestis (Celestial Light) is the final result of that process.  In looking for texts I considered many sources, including texts from the Islamic faith to Native American religious practices to texts from Newton about the essence of light.  In some cases, I could not find the right poetry.  In other cases, out of respect, I could not set the text.  (While it is possible to recite the Quran, it is objectionable to some Muslims to set and sing verses from the Quran.)  I considered a very beautiful poem from the great Sufi poet, Rumi, but it was only available in an English translation by Coleman Barks and not available in a transliteration in the original Persian.  It nevertheless, it captured the overriding philosophy of this cycle.  An excerpt of the poem reads as follows:

All religions, all this singing
One Song.
The differences are just
Illusion and vanity.

The Sun's light looks
A little different on this wall than
It does on that wall,
And a lot different on this other one,
But it's still one light

        I finally decided that for an unaccompanied work, five movements would be a good limit.  I had found texts from Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity, but needed another.  The poet Robert Pinksy suggested to me that I look for Zoroastrian texts on the idea of fire.  This rounded out the cycle perfectly.
        The cycle begins with the creation of light (Genesis) and the words “Yehi-or” -  let there be light.  The piece opens with a solo similar to Jewish cantillation and the choir enters on the creation of light.  The next piece comes from the Zoroastrian scriptures and is sung in Avestan, the only place where this language is still used.  These excerpts are some of the oldest texts in the cycle (about 3800 years old) and some are hymns attributed to Zoroaster himself.  They speak of Asha (divine Right) and fire as the manifestation of the light of God.  Perhaps the first type of monotheistic religion, Zoroastrianism influenced the Abrahamic faiths and there are many traits that we see in other faith traditions (e.g., lighting a candle before a service).  The work sets different words for fire (Atrem, Atarsh, Athro) and uses the metrical lines of the hymns in rhythmic strophes. The third text comes from Theravada Buddhism and the Pali canon.  Here it is the mind that is luminous, not defiled by incoming thoughts.  In this piece I played with the sound of the syllables as much as the words themselves.  A pentatonic tune in a different key is then juxtaposed against the opening pitch collection, finally breaking through into a bright ending.  The fourth text is a widely known and loved Sanskrit mantra from the Hindu tradition, the Gayatri Mantra.  Translations vary widely, but guidance from divine light is a prominent theme.  I used drones for the sacred syllable of “Om” and I wanted to make sure that the rhythm closely followed the traditional way this mantra is sung.  Repeated three times, this is the longest piece in the cycle.  The last work is the Lux aeterna, only slightly altered from the 2004 version.  Here light is an eternal concept of love, peace, and rest.  All of the works in the cycle have material drawn from this last piece, with “light-motives” that reflect different aspects of light, the eternal, God, and fire throughout the cycle.

Texts and Translations


(Genesis 1: vs. 1-5)

Bereshit bara Elohim et hashamayim ve'et ha'arets.
Veha'arets haytah tohu vavohu vechoshech al-peney tehom veruach Elohim merachefet al-peney hamayim.

Vayomer Elohim yehi-or vayehi-or.

Vayar Elohim et-ha'or ki-tov vayavdel Elohim beyn ha'or uveyn hachoshech.

Vayikra Elohim la-or yom velachoshech kara laylah vayehi-erev vayehi-voker yom echad.

Let There be Light

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

At toi Atrem

(Yasna 34-4, 43-4, and Haptan Yasht 36:3)

At toi Ātrem Ahurā aojonghvantem ashā usemahi

Ātarsh voi Mazdāo Ahurahyā ahi, Mainyeush voi ahyā spenishto ahi

Thwahyā garemā āthro ashā-aojangho, hyat moi Vangheush haze jimat Manangho

Of Thy Fire

O Ahura Mazda we ardently desire Thy mighty Fire, through Asha.

O Fire you are the symbol of Ahura Mazda, you are the symbol of the beneficent mind.

And Thou shall come to me through the heat (splendor) of Thy Fire, possessing the strength of righteousness and good mind.

Pabhassara Sutta
Sutta pitaka, anguttara nikaya, bk. 1(1.5.9 -1.5.10)

Pabhassaramidaṃ bhikkhave cittaṃ, tañca kho āgantukehi upakkilesehi upakkiliṭṭhanti.

Pabhassaramidaṃ bhikkhave cittaṃ, tañca kho āgantukehi upakkilesehi vippamuttanti.

Luminous Discourse

Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is defiled by incoming defilements.

Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is freed from incoming defilements.

Gayatri Mantra
Rig Veda 3.62.10
(preceded by themahāvyāhṛti)

bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ

tat savitur vareṇyaṃ
bhargo devasya dhīmahi
dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt

Hymn Prayer (to Savitur)
(Goddess Gayatri)

O thou existence Absolute, Creator of the three dimensions

We contemplate upon thy divine light.
May He stimulate our intellect and bestow upon us true knowledge

Lux aeterna
(from the Mass for the Dead)

Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine,
cum sanctis tuis in aeternam,
quia pius es.
Requiem aeternam, dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis

Light Eternal

Let light eternal shine upon them, O Lord,
with thy saints forever,
for Thou art merciful.
Rest eternal grant them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.