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A song cycle for baritone and piano
Duration: 25 minutes 
Composed in 2014.

A pastor, theologian, spy, prisoner, and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) served as a voice of resistance in the face of Nazism and its influence over the German church. As a double-agent, Bonhoeffer played a role in a number of failed Hitler assassination attempts and would eventually be arrested by the Nazis for conspiracy. He would spend the final two years of his life in prison only to be executed a few weeks before the end of the war. While in prison Bonhoeffer wrote ten poems along with an outline for a book on the future of the church, a future he imagined would bring forth a “religionless Christianity” that would put an end to the “deus ex machina” - or God who serves simply as a means to an end. Voices in the Night is the longest of the ten poems and describes the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual experience of being locked in a prison cell. Feelings of nostalgia and longing for freedom are juxtaposed against the dark, cold reality of isolated confinement and the looming weight of death. A sense of guilt seizes Bonhoeffer midway through the poem as he realizes his own complicity in not defending the Jews and other victims. This leads to an act of contrition before God and a resolve to stand for his convictions. While his surroundings grow bleaker and his fellow prisoners are executed, Bonhoeffer finds strength through his faith to stand his ground and beckons us, the readers, to live for those who have died unjustly.

The poem is spread across eight songs. A recurring motive between the pitches D and B appears throughout the song cycle and serves as a musical signature for Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The signature is transformed, distorted, and eventually restored as Bonhoeffer experiences feelings of dread, terror, and finally hope. Quotation and musical allusions to classical forms and hymnody also play an important role in creating a variety of sonic sensations, including displacement, unease, irony, nostalgia, and resolve. While quotation and allusion of older musical styles appear in a number of my works, the music of Schubert, for which I held little affinity towards prior to writing this piece, came as a surprising inspiration. Schubert’s influence appears most notably in song II, which quotes a waltz attributed to the composer, and song III, which reharmonizes and overlays new text on “Der Doppelgänger” from Schwanengesang. The piece reaches a climax during the sixth song where chants of accusations are followed by stanzas of a Lutheran hymn where the singer admits his indifference towards the injustice and violence that surrounded him.

Performance History

Faculty Recital - premiere

Dallas Baptist University | Dallas, TX

Jeremy Blackwood, baritone, Paul Thomas, piano



Lenten Meditations Concert

Trinity United Methodist Church | Denton, TX

Jeremy Blackwood, baritone, Paul Thomas, piano


Songs of Sacrifice Recital (Tenor Version)

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary | Ft. Worth, TX

John Green, tenor, Paul Thomas, piano


College Music Society South Central Conference

Southeastern Oklahoma State University | Durant, OK

Jeremy Blackwood, baritone, Paul Thomas, piano

Download the score:
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