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Love Abide

Sufi Maple Leaf (below right) created by Mishca Giankovich for her Love is the Master video. The double waw has been called “the letter of connection between man and God,”. Caligraphically it reads Hu or Huwa - a name for God in Sufism. Literally, Arabic for “He.”

The genesis of Love Abide’s commission was the pinnacle of Love and devotion – commission by The Choral Arts Society Philadelphia, USA, the was funded by philanthropist Paul Rowley, who wanted something composed in memory of his late wife, Miriam Primitch. She sang alto in the choir for 15 years – I was told that she would literally “glow” after every performance. He specified that he would like the famous verses on Love from the Bible’s first Corinthians, with its timeless message: you can have anything in the whole wide world but it is worth nothing without love.

For the first movement, I was free to choose another poem to accompany this. Love is the Master, by Rumi (the 13th century Sufi mystic and poet) is just as fervent in its celebration of love, but in a wilder and more passionate way than the bible verses it precedes. I have used the Sufi Duyek Velveleli rhythm as a quasi “riff” in the bass and the Turkish Zengüle mode (imagine a scale of C with a D flat and an A flat), giving the music a more Eastern flavour. The rhythms, harmonies and vocal lines start quite sedately with parts of the choir chanting “Love is the master” in a trance-like fashion. As the music progresses all these elements become more and more intense until, fraught with irrevocable ecstasy, …

Love is the Master
Love is the One who masters all things;
I am mastered totally by Love.
By my passion of love for Love
I have ground sweet as sugar.
O furious Wind, I am only a straw before you;
How could I know where I will be blown next?
Whoever claims to have made a pact with Destiny
Reveals himself a liar and a fool;
What is any of us but a straw in a storm?
How could anyone make a pact with a hurricane?
God is working everywhere his massive Resurrection;
How can we pretend to act on our own?
In the hand of Love I am like a cat in a sack;
Sometimes Love hoists me into the air,
Sometimes Love flings me into the air,
Love swings me round and round His head;
I have no peace, in this world or any other.
The lovers of God have fallen in a furious river;
They have surrendered themselves to Love’s commands.
Like mill wheels they turn, day and night, day and night,
Constantly turning and turning, and crying out.

Rumi, trans. Andrew Harvey. (Words reproduced with kind permission of Andrew Harvey)

Love Abide
The second movement, called Love Abide (as well as the title of the whole piece), is much calmer and infused with a more romantic – rather than passionate – ardour than Love is the Master. Like this commission’s benefactor, I empathize deeply with the overall message of the words: you can have anything in the whole wide world but it is worth nothing without love. Flowing and interweaving scales in the organ and harp accompany most of the movement creating a calm, dream-like atmosphere. Soloists, choir and orchestra end the piece together, with intense joy and optimism.

  1. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.
  2. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
  3. If I give away all I have, and I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
  4. Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful;
  5. it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
  6. it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.
  7. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
  8. Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.
  9. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect;
  10. but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.
  11. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
  12. For now we see in the mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.
  13. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; the greatest of these is love.

I Corinthians 13. New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.