Symphonic Prayers is a work for orchestra and soprano soloist in four movements. The work uses four poems from Rainer Maria Rilke’s collection Das Stundenbuch (The Book of Hours), written between 1895 and 1903. Rilke was a Bohemian poet, mystic, traveler, and lover of art and nature. He narrates The Book of Hours through a fictional Russian monk who converses with God and reflects upon the nature of the world through the poetry. Rilke’s poems delicately weave together the joys and struggles of a faith journey and of finding one’s place in the world and in eternity. Equally striking is the beauty with which he utilizes the German language. There is an irresistible rhythm and nuance to his words.
The four poems I chose each reflect a different category of prayer derived from the Christian faith tradition. A common prayer model utilized in the Protestant church is abbreviated by the acronym “ACTS,” which stands for adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication. The ACTS prayers guide the worshipper through four methods of praying: expressing adoration for God, confessing sins and shortcomings, showing gratitude and thanksgiving, and asking for help for oneself and others. I modeled each movement of Symphonic Prayers after these categories and chose poems from Das Stundenbuch that mirrored the sentiments of each prayer.
Adoration is a proclamation of faith, a statement of unrelenting praise and prayer. The narrator unapologetically declares that even if it begets arrogance, nothing will diminish his drive to reach out to God. Even through this bold statement, the poem maintains reverence and a sense of wonder toward its subject. Confession is a statement of the brokenness of the world, recounting how murder has ripped through God’s call for us to love life, and how our attempts to atone for this brokenness fall short. Thanksgiving is a boisterous statement of praise to God. The speaker analogizes her praise to trumpet calls, her words to sweet wine, and her music to a northern spring day, each preparing the way for God. Supplication returns to the reverence of the first movement. The narrator contemplates her life that is ever circling around God.
The compositional goal of Symphonic Prayers was to create a work that would honor the ACTS prayers through the elegant words of a mystic poet. The music reinforces the messages behind Rilke’s honest conversations with God, and in doing so offers a new lens through which to experience the arc of the ACTS prayers.