A Carnival of Miracles

A Carnival of Miracles was composed for the female vocal quartet Anonymous 4 and was commissioned by the WNYC Foundation. Scored for 4 women's voices and 2 cellos, its overall theme is different kinds of freedoms: religious, scientific, artistic, cultural, sexual, and political.

The texts are taken from numerous sources and range from the 4th century through the 20th. They include such unlikely sources as an ancient text from a Nag Hammadi codex; the United States Supreme Court; the Marquis de Sade; the first female U.S. Presidential candidate; Beethoven; Galileo; and a Nobel-Prize-winning Polish Poet.

Some of these freedoms are laudatory, others perhaps disturbing, still others absurd. The work explores the ambiguous notion of freedom, a word whose meaning is, even in a free society, poorly understood. While unified harmonically and rhythmically, each movement is quite different in sound, texture, and, especially, vocal treatment. The title refers to the medieval idea of Carnival, a time when the social order is ritually upended and all is allowed.

Thank you: John Schaefer and WNYC-FM, Anonymous 4, Adam Liptak, Nadia Margolis, Laurie Schwartz, Wislawa Szymborska, Elaine Pagels, William Meredith of the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, San Jose State University; Jon Asgeirsson of The Institute for Antiquity and Christianity at Claremont University, Czeslaw Kochowski, Andy Cohen, Lisa Bielawa, Michelle Eaton, Karol Steadman and, of course, my wife, Amy Singer.



ENIGMA (spiritual freedoms) is extracted from an incantation found in the Nag Hammadi codices from the beginning of the Common Era (C.E.) compiled in the 4th century.

ntaie sa net meeue eroi
aucine mmoi hn netsine nsoei

nrefsotm sotm eroi
netcost ebol het sopt erotn

auo mprpot nsoi mpemto nnetnbal ebol
m prr atsaune mmoei kata ma e
kata nkeouaeis areh

mprr atsooun mmoei

anok gar te tsorp auo thae
anok te tettaeiaeit auo tetses

anok te tporne auo tsemne
anok te teshime auo tparthenos
anok te tetnase pesgamos
auo mpijei hai

anok te tmaau nte paeiot
auo tsone mpa hoout
auo ntof pe pajpo

anok pe pkarof ete maustahof
auo tepinoi a ete nase pesr mpeeue

anok te tesme ete nase pes hroou
auo plogos ete nase pefeine

anok pe psaje m paran
anok gar pe psooun auo tmntatsooun
anok pe psipe auo tparhesia
anok ouatsipe anok ou jpiet
anok ounaste auo anok ouhrte
anok pe ppo lemos auo trene
t hte tn eroei

anok tentaumestos hn ma nim
auo tentaumerits hn ma nim
anok tete saumou te eros je ponh
auo atetn moute je pmou
anok tete saumoute eros je pnomos
auo atetnmoute je tanomia

mprr atsooun mmoei

I have come to those who think upon me
I was found among those who seek after me

you hearers, hear me
You who wait for me, embrace me.

and do not chase me from your sight. 
Do not be ignorant of me in any place or time; watch, and wait.

Do not be ignorant of me.

For I am the first and the last
I am the honored one and I am the scorned.

I am the whore and the holy one. 
I am the wife and the virgin. 
I am she whose wedding is great, 
and I have not taken a man.

I am the mother of my father
and the sister of my husband, 
and he is my son.

I am the incomprehensible silence
and the idea often remembered.

I am the voice of many sounds. 
and the word that appears in many forms.

I am the sounding of my name
For I am knowledge and ignorance. 
I am shame and boldness
I am shameless, I am ashamed. 
I am strength and I am fear. 
I am war and peace. 
Hear me.

I am she who has been hated everywhere
and she who has been loved everywhere. 
I am she whom they call Life, 
and you have called Death. 
I am she whom they call Law, 
and you have called Lawlessness.

Do not be ignorant of me.

from The Thunder: Complete Mind, 
circa 150-350 C.E. 
Translation: Elaine Pagels

THE SCIENTIST (scientific freedoms) is a single sentence which Galileo is said to have murmured after he was forced by Church authorities to deny that the Earth traveled around the Sun.

eppur si muove...

And yet it moves....

Galileo Galilei, 1633

THE GENIUS (artistic freedoms) is drawn from Beethoven’s asinine response to criticism of his string writing.

Does he suppose that I am thinking about his miserable violin when the spirit is speaking to me?

Glaubt er, daß ich an seine elende Geige denke, wenn der Geist zu mir spricht?

Ludwig van Beethoven, early 19th cent.

THE COURT (freedom of speech) consists of excerpts from two Supreme Court decisions written by Judges Learned Hand and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Until the final section, the words are "freed" from their original meanings and recombined. The opening gesture answers the question often posed to free speech advocates: Does "freedom of speech" give one the right to shout "Fire!" in a public auditorium?"

Every idea is an incitement. 
[Although] eloquence may set fire to Reason we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe.

Right conclusions are gathered out of a multitude of tongues. 
To many this always will be folly; but we have staked upon it our all.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Gitlow v. New York (1925); Abrams v. United States (1919)
Learned Hand, United States v. Associated Press (1943)

MRS SATAN MEETS THE DIVINE MARQUIS (sexual freedoms) combines texts by Victoria Woodhull, a 19th-century feminist, with some remarkably similar (and characteristic) excerpts from the 18th-century libertine, the Marquis de Sade.


Je suis une amante libre. 
J'ai le droit inaliénable...et naturel
d'aimer, quelle que soit la durée de mon amour, 
de changer cet amour autant que cela me plaît…

I am a free lover. 
I have an inalienable...and natural right
to love as long or short a period as I can;

to change that love every day if I please…

Victoria Woodhull, American feminist; first woman to hold a chair on the U.S. Stock Exchange; first female candidate for the U.S. Presidency, 1871

l'action de céder à la nature, 
regardée comme un crime chez un peuple captif, ne peut plus l'être chez un peuple libre.

se plaçant d'elles-mêmes au-dessus de l'usage et du préjugé, elles foulent
hardiment aux pieds les fers honteux dont on prétend les asservir; 
elles triompheront bientôt alors de la coutume et de l'opinion...

the act of yielding to Nature's desires, looked upon as a crime by a captive people, can no longer endure as such amongst a free people.

Placing themselves of their own free will above custom and prejudice, may [young women] boldly cast off the shameful chains with which [society] dares to subjugate them; these women will soon triumph over public mores and opinion...

The Marquis Donatien-Alphonse-François de Sade, 1795

MIRACLE FAIR is taken from the magnificent 1986 poem of the same name by the Nobel Laureate Wizslawa Szymborska.

Cud pospolity: 
to, ze dzieje sie wiele cudow pospolitych.

Cud jeden z wielu: 
chmurka zwiewna i mala, 
a potrafi zaslonic duzy ciezki ksiezyc.

Cud pierwszy lepszy: 
krowy sa krowami

Cud bez czarnego fraka i cylindra: 
rozfruwajace sie biale golebie.

Cud, tylko sie rozejrzec: 
wszechobecny swiat.

Cud dodatkowy, jak dodatkowe jest wszystko: 
co nie do pomyslenia
jest do pomyslenia.

The commonplace miracle: 
that so many common miracles take place.

One of many miracles: 
a small and airy cloud
is able to upstage the massive moon.

A miracle in the first place: 
cows will be cows.

A miracle minus top hat and tails: 
fluttering white doves.

A miracle, just take a look around: 
the inescapable earth.

An extra miracle, extra and ordinary:

the unthinkable
can be thought.

Wislawa Szymborska, Polish Poet 1986

Beth Beauchamp