Works

L'abbé Agathon

2005

Scored for

soprano, 4 violas and 4 violoncellos

Duration

15 min

Short description

Composed for soprano and eight violoncellos, L’abbé Agathon is inspired by Maladrerie Saint-Lazare, the oldest leper hospital in northern Europe. The remains of the hospital, dating from the 12th century, lie close to Beauvais. Pärt came across a 4th century legend concerning Agathon in a book of stories about the Desert Fathers that describes the life of Christian monks in the deserts of Egypt. The legend tells us of the meeting between the hermit Agathon and a leper who tested Agathon several times. Only after these trials, the leper revealed himself as an angel sent by God.

Arvo Pärt: “St. Agathon is associated with several legends involving lepers. One of the best-known says that Agathon’s love was so great that he was willing to exchange his body with that of a l…

Composed for soprano and eight violoncellos, L’abbé Agathon is inspired by Maladrerie Saint-Lazare, the oldest leper hospital in northern Europe. The remains of the hospital, dating from the 12th century, lie close to Beauvais. Pärt came across a 4th century legend concerning Agathon in a book of stories about the Desert Fathers that describes the life of Christian monks in the deserts of Egypt. The legend tells us of the meeting between the hermit Agathon and a leper who tested Agathon several times. Only after these trials, the leper revealed himself as an angel sent by God.

Arvo Pärt: “St. Agathon is associated with several legends involving lepers. One of the best-known says that Agathon’s love was so great that he was willing to exchange his body with that of a leper. Three musical situations dominate the piece: Agathon on the way to the market, characterised by his gait heavy with the leper on his shoulders, the dialogues between the leper and Agathon, and the life at the market. The coda is a surprising dramaturgical turning point – but also a logical conclusion to the idea which brings the entire notion of Agathon to a head.”

The world premiere of the composition took place in May 2004 in Beauvais, France, performed by soprano Barbara Hendricks and L'Octuor de violoncelles de Beauvais, who also commissioned the work. L’abbé Agathon is dedicated to musicians who premiered it. Pärt’s list of works also includes versions for soprano, four violas and four cellos (2005) and for soprano, alto or baritone, female choir and string orchestra (2008).

World premiere

10.07.2005
Ossiach Abbey, Ossiach, Austria

Concert-performance: "Der Weg". Azione sacra auf Musik von Arvo Pärt

Camerata Salzburg , Erwin Ortner, Berit Barfred-Jensen

Completion year

2005

Original version

2004

Scored for

soprano, 4 violas and 4 violoncellos

Duration

15 min

Publishers

Universal Edition

Language

French

Vocal text

From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers

L’abbé Agathon, se rendant un jour dans la ville pour vendre de menus objets, trouva le long de la route un lépreux qui lui demanda: “Où vas-tu?”
L’abbé Agathon lui dit: “A la ville vendre des objets.”
Le lépreux lui dit: “Par charité, porte-moi là-bas.” L’ayant pris, le vieillard le porta à la ville.
L’autre lui dit alors: “Dépose-moi à l’endroit où tu vends tes objets.” Et l’abbé Agathon fit ainsi. Quand il eut vendu un objet, le lépreux lui demanda: “Combien l’as-tu vendu?”
“Tant.”
“Achète-moi un gâteau.” Il l’acheta. Quand il eut vendu un autre objet, l’autre lui dit: “Et celui-ci, combien l’as-tu vendu?”
“Tant.”
“Achète-moi telle chose.” Le vieillard l’acheta encore. Quand il eut vendu tous ses objets et qu’il voulut partir, le lépreux lui dit: “Tu t’en vas?”
“Oui.”
“Je t’en prie, par charité, reporte-moi à l’endroit où tu m’as trouvé.” L’abbé Agathon prit le lépreu…
From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers

L’abbé Agathon, se rendant un jour dans la ville pour vendre de menus objets, trouva le long de la route un lépreux qui lui demanda: “Où vas-tu?”
L’abbé Agathon lui dit: “A la ville vendre des objets.”
Le lépreux lui dit: “Par charité, porte-moi là-bas.” L’ayant pris, le vieillard le porta à la ville.
L’autre lui dit alors: “Dépose-moi à l’endroit où tu vends tes objets.” Et l’abbé Agathon fit ainsi. Quand il eut vendu un objet, le lépreux lui demanda: “Combien l’as-tu vendu?”
“Tant.”
“Achète-moi un gâteau.” Il l’acheta. Quand il eut vendu un autre objet, l’autre lui dit: “Et celui-ci, combien l’as-tu vendu?”
“Tant.”
“Achète-moi telle chose.” Le vieillard l’acheta encore. Quand il eut vendu tous ses objets et qu’il voulut partir, le lépreux lui dit: “Tu t’en vas?”
“Oui.”
“Je t’en prie, par charité, reporte-moi à l’endroit où tu m’as trouvé.” L’abbé Agathon prit le lépreux et le reporta à cet endroit. Celui-ci lui dit alors: “Béni es-tu, Agathon, par le Seigneur du ciel et de la terre.”
Agathon leva les yeux mais il ne vit plus personne, car le lépreux était un ange du Seigneur venu le mettre à l’épreuve.


The Abbot Agathon went one afternoon into town, to market to sell his wares and there, along the road was a leper. The leper said: “Where will you go?”
The Abbot Agathon replied: “Into town selling humble wares.”
So the leper replied: “For mercy’s sake, take me forth with you.” So he did. Agathon took the leper into town.
Then the leper spoke: “Transport me to the market stalls where you sell all your wares.”
And the Abbot Agathon did as he was asked. When the monk had made his first sale, the leper dared to ask him: “How much have you sold it for?”
“Much.”
“Kind Sir, then buy me a cake.” And he obliged. When the monk had sold another ware, the leper said: “This item here, how much did it fetch you?”
“Much.”
“Then purchase it for me.” Agathon did the leper’s will. When Abbot Agathon sold all his wares, and then desired to leave, the leper said: “You depart?”
“Yes.”
“If you will, for mercy’s sake, take me back along the road where I lay today.” The Abbot Agathon lifted the man, took the leper back to where he’d lain. When he had, the leper said: “Blest indeed are you, Agathon. Blest indeed are you by Jesus, the Lord of Heaven and of the Earth.”
Agathon raised up his eyes, but he saw not anyone. For the leper was an angel of the Lord come to put him to the trial.

Translation by Cori Ellison
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