Love Has No Why

Text by Meister Eckhart
Soloist, Singers, and String Quartet
Commissioned for Derry-Londonderry UK City of Culture 2013
Premiered in Christ Church Derry, December 2013

If anyone went on for a thousand years asking of life: ‘Why are you living?’, life, if it could answer, would only say, ‘I live so that I may live’. That is because life lives out of its own source, and so it lives without asking why it is itself living. He who lives in the goodness of his nature lives in God’s love; and love has no why.

Meister Eckhart, Sermon

Thirteenth-century German theologian, philosopher, and mystic Meister Eckhart was known by his contemporaries as ‘the man from whom God hid nothing’, an exalted sobriquet that bespeaks the profundity of his mystical pronouncements. !is work meditates on an extract from one of his sermons.


Libretto by Carlo Gébler
Soli, String Quartet, and Rock Band
Commissioned for Derry-Londonderry City of Culture 2013.

Totalled is a tragicomedy, set in present-day Derry, about six young people whose intertwined lives are sent reeling by shocking events at a party. The opera takes place at the eighteenth birthday party of the prima donna, Eva, and follows the two tenor characters, Remus and Romeo, as the former is coerced into the crime owing to his drug addiction and the latter is earning of the pregnancy of his girlfriend. The riotously funny atmosphere of the opera’s first act is sharply contrasted with devastation of its second, where a tragic concatenation of circumstances leads to the opera’s dénouement—a fatal car crash.

Number Seven

For Tenor, Piano/Harp, and Chorus.
Premiered University of Ulster, Magee Campus, Derry.
Commissioned by Legacy Trust UK for the Cultural Olympiad, London Olympics 2012.

One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
                                                           Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

Thus did Albert Camus conclude his study of the human condition—a study which informs the epilogue of Number Seven. And though Camus had seen incessant effort as futile, the climax of this work sees the continual struggle against stacked odds redeemed in moment of glory. Along with Sisyphus, Greek antiquity pervades, or rather invades, this piece: the age of the original Olympics; the story of the first marathon; the menace of the Spartans. It evokes the age of warfare when athletic prowess was crucial not for wealth or fame, but for life itself.

Athletes use stories to sharpen their performance: they think themselves into a scene to tap the extra adrenaline that will push them to new limits. The soloist plays the part of an athlete who has taken this tactic to the extreme, an athlete who imagines themselves so completely in their invented story, in whom the link between mind and body—the psyche and soma—is so strong, that it becomes their waking dream.

We are invited into this interior world: the track becomes a dusty road; the athlete is as a soldier pursued by an enemy on horseback, fleeing for their life to the shelter of their walled city; the supporters’ cheering chants from the stands become the cries of the fellow soldiers from the battlements. The spear of the horseman pierces into the real world as it pierces into the soldier’s side, triggering a psycho-somatic reaction so strong that it causes the athlete to falter in the race.

The music is also imbued with allusions to Greek antiquity: the chorus comment on the exterior action in the manner of Greek drama, which, in contrast to the athlete’s interior thoughts, are updated to the idiom of modern sports commentary; all musical material in the piece is drawn from one of the three tetrachords used to organize Greek music, known as the diatonic genus; the soloist is accompanied by a harp which recalls the Greek lyra

The musical forms used in the piece stem from a love of Baroque music, shared by the composer and librettist. The work is a masque—a genre of courtly entertainment, often based on a mythological themes, that reached its apogee in seventeenth-century England. The dotted rhythms of the French overture become the beating heart throbbing in the ears of the athlete as they take their place at the starting blocks. The quick section that traditionally follows takes the form of a ‘fugato’ which comes from the Latin meaning ‘to flee’. The choral voices imitate each other continually and at different intervals, of both time and pitch, to evoke the mercurial nature of the race.

The athlete and the distance of the race are unidentified. That the athlete is unnamed athlete invites the audience to release themselves from realism and imagine themselves in the heat of the race and the sandals of the soldier. The sex of the athlete is unimportant as it has no bearing on the fantasy at the heart of the work—what matters is that the athlete identify completely with the soldier, their counterpart from ages past, for this artifice to convince. The work may be seen as the stretching of a sprint or as a microcosm of a marathon. That an athlete today can harness the grit of a soul from a time before history shows the emotions of physical toil to be universal.

This opera was commissioned by the Legacy Trust UK for the Cultural Olympiad, part of the 2012 London Olympics, in collaboration with author Carlo Gébler. Carlo and I visited the training sessions of Sparta athletic, an athletics club based in Derry city, and who helped us understand the thought processes used by athletes during a race. 

The opera was premiered in the University of Ulster Sports Centre, that had been transformed into a theatre for the evening, by Ciarán Kelly, Gail Evans, the University of Ulster Choir directed by Shaun Ryan, and actors from Lumen Christi College directed by Peter Morgan Barnes. It was staged again in the Ebrington parade ground at the arrival of the Olympic torch to Derry city.