for soprano and digital audio playback. 1995. Commissioned by Anne-Marie Donovan with a grant from the Ontario Arts Council..12 minutes. Score/part and CD available through PROMETHEAN EDITIONS. (Also available in a version for soprano and orchestra called FROM THE BOOK OF JOB).


In everyday parlance, the English expression four-letter word has cheap and vulgar connotations, but in Greek Tetragrammaton, (Greek for four-letter word) is the Hellenistic term for the Hebrew name of God. The name itself, YAHWEH, has six letters, but in old Hebrew only the consonants, YHWH, were written down, hence the Greek name. The text of the piece is a compilation from the Book of Job of the Old Testament, specifically from 'God's answer to Job' (verses 38:4-18). The conclusion of the first stanza of the selected text ("when the morning stars sang together, as the wind announced upon the waters the glory of the coming of man") is not a literal translation from the Bible, but is borrowed from Edgar Cayce, the 20th century American mystic, who has offered this poetic rendering while in trance on a number of occasions; the evocative and powerful character of this rendering made it impossible to resist its inclusion here. Before embarking on the composition of the piece and after reading the original text several times, I read Carl G. Jung's Answer to Job, a remarkable work which Jung wrote towards the end of his life. Although I agree with Jung that the Book of Job is a turning point in the Hebrew concept of the Godhead and a founding stone for the subsequent advent of Christianity, I do disagree with his description of God's answer to Job as pyrotechnics aimed mainly at impressing fear in Job and preventing him from questioning the Divine. To me the verses of the whole Book of Job and of that section in particular are sublime and of timeless beauty: they are just as inspiring and relevant today as when they were written. In setting these verses to music, I had no preconceived ideas about how the music should sound or evolve; I let the words take me wherever they wanted to go. I tried to create a magical context in which they could tell their own story without too much interference from my part. Tetragrammaton took me an unusually long time to compose; I worked on it on and off from May 1994 until February 1995. The years 1994 and 1995 were a testing period for me, a mid-life crisis if you like, which affected my work and my thinking about music, and Tetragrammaton along with some other works of the same period bear witness to my changing values, musical and otherwise. The common thread that permeates these works is the investigation of a situation where creativity is divorced from ego. In this process of soul searching, the Book of Job became a grand metaphor for a newly defined creativity. This book, like the parable of the Prodigal Son, is about a fundamental change in consciousness whereby an individual does not become creative through the solitary activity of playing God, but by the far more rewarding one of playing (or co-creating) with God.

Premiere performance: November 17, 1995 by soprano Kimberley Enns-Hildebrand. NUMUS concert series, Waterloo Community Arts Centre (The Button Factory), Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

Return to Principal Compositions