An anthem for choir and two cellos by Art Eschenlauer
I composed this piece about Jesus and the woman accused of adultery (John 8:1-11) using the MuseScore program, https://musescore.org.
Listen to this piece (as synthesized by MuseScore)
Printable choir score
Printable instrumental parts
- Cello and (for rehearsal only) piano
Files to create the sheet music above
The text for this piece, based on John 8:1-11
They brought a woman before Jesus, shaming her to bring him down.
As they tested him with questions, he stooped writing on the ground.
"This woman is a sinner, guilty of adultery.
Moses' law tells us to stone her. Tell us, what should her sentence be?"
The woman stood there in the midst of them, shamed, rejected, and alone.
"Let the sinless one among you be the first to cast a stone."
As they looked into their consciences, their own sins came into view,
And, beginning with the oldest, ashamed and humbled, they withdrew.
"Woman where have your accusers gone? Is not one left who condemns?"
Said the woman, choking back her tears, "Lord, I see not one of them."
"You may go, but do not sin again. Be again a faithful wife.
I do not condemn you either. Know God forgives and gives you life!"
Thoughts about the story that influenced composition of this piece
Jesus says very little in this story. What is His focus as He writes on the ground? Could it be that Jesus is focused neither on using His wits to overcome the test nor on modeling compassion for us? Could it be that the individuality and person-hood of the woman and the men accusing her are not afterthoughts for Him but rather are the focus of His compassion, thoughts, and will? If, in our zeal to learn about ourselves, we project ourselves into the role of either the woman or one of her accusers, then we risk missing the depth of Jesus' character, nature, and beauty, as revealed in His particular and personal interest in the people at hand. I think that the passage retains its full power and meaning when understood as the story of an actual event rather than as mere allegory.
Characteristics of the composition
Cello I generally reflects the woman's feelings, and Cello II reflects Jesus' ongoing empathy for her. Her feelings are evloving, even at times when the narration focuses on others: The cellos begin somberly reflecting the woman's dread about the possibility that she will suffer an agonizing death. After the second verse the mood becomes more hopeful because she evidently will not be killed, but she still is struggling with rejection; thus, the cellos begin a slow dance, no longer desperate, but still tentative. When she realizes that Jesus will not reject her either, the mood becomes positive, the key becomes major, and the cellos' dance becomes more spirited. The dramatic progression is not so much from near defeat to victory as it is from desperation to hope.
The sections of this piece reflect the drama of the story.
- The symmetrical structure represents that the facts of the woman's life and relationships at the end of the story have changed little, albeit with three notable exceptions: she has been publicly humiliated, her life is no longer threatened, and she has encountered at least one person who accepts her personhood rather than rejecting her for her actions:
- The overture played by the cello (ms 1-4) mirrors the coda (ms 97-100).
- The first and last verses are largely sung in four independent voices; unison is used for the story's climaxes.
- The cello interludes between the verses reflect the woman's feelings at the corresponding point in the story.
- The middle verse is mostly sung in two voices, with unison for the dramatic climax of the story.
- Overture - The overture begins quietly, reflecting Jesus' quietly teaching the people in the temple. It abruptly becomes loud as the accusers storm in with the woman, and it has an aspect of desperate terror foreshadowing the words of the first verse.
- First Scene - The cello accompaniment for the first verse reflects the woman's dread as she is present while her accusers propose a violent fate for her. Repetition of the word "this" in the different parts (ms 20-21) emulates the accusation spoken intensely by her several accusers. The increased force of the word "stone" (ms 26) reflect the brutality and inhumanity of the proposed sentence.
- First Interlude - The doleful character of the first cello interlude reflects the woman's despair as she hears that they want to kill her; perhaps she realizes that her accusers lack the most basic consciousness of her humanity and fright as they use her as a pawn in their attempt to bring Jesus down.
- Middle Scene - The second verse is quieter as all have eyes and ears focused on Jesus before He speaks and as all consider their own consciences afterward. The women's voices in ms 46-7 reflect the woman wailing as she feels humiliated, rejected, alone, and doomed; the cello pizzicato represents her teardrops. The choir sings Jesus' response in unison both to reflect its import and to reflect the fact that, for Him, personally, what is at stake is not the test but rather the plight of the woman and her accusers' need for empathy. The groans in the men's voices in ms 56-7 reflect the groans made (at least inwardly) by the accusers as they recognize their own failings. The parts and dynamics wane in ms 61-3 as the men withdraw, one by one.
- Second Interlude - The interlude after the second verse as a tentative dancing aspect to it which reflects the fact that the woman will live but that she still stands humiliated before Jesus (and the crowd, who have witnessed everything); it is unclear at this point in the story whether, though her life was spared, she will live as a pariah.
- Final Scene - The shift from minor to Major mode in ms 88 represents the woman's realization not only that will she live to try to make amends with the people in her life but also that Jesus does not number Himself among her accusers. The choir sings ms 90-7 in one harmonic voice to reflect how Jesus' instructions will be life-changing for her.
- Coda - The hopeful dancing aspect of the coda reflect the fullness of life that Jesus has rescued for the woman, along with the joy that He has recognized her personhood publicly, thereby encouraging others to recognize it as well.
John 8:1-11 - King James Version (KJV)
- Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.
- And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.
- And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
- They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
- Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
- This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
- So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
- And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
- And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
- When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
- She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.