What would the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola sound like if they were to be sung? Kris Oelbrandt was confronted with this question when two Jesuits from the Old Abbey of Drongen passed by. They also had something to celebrate, namely 150 years of retreat home in Drongen, and commissioned him to set the Spiritual Exercises to music. The result was the Ignatius cantata, a piece for choir, baritone, guitar and ensemble. This cantata will now be performed at the Krijtberg in Amsterdam on June 9th…
The baritone personifies Ignatius, accompanied by guitar because of the Spanish atmosphere. His vocals are something between speaking and singing, the so-called Sprechstimme. This technique makes it possible to make continuous text, prose (what the Spiritual Exercises are), lyrical by means of bends in the voice and rhythmic recitation. On expressive words he switches to “ordinary” vocals, which gives these words extra shine.
It was impossible to set the complete Exercises to music. That is why only the most concise sentences have been chosen, supplemented with texts from the Bible and tradition. The choir sings these other texts, accompanied by woodwinds. In this way, the textual augmentation (other texts being added) is supported by a musical augmentation (from baritone to choir).
Because of Ignatius’ universal ideas, the choice was made for world languages, namely Spanish and English.
The cantata consists of six parts: the four phases of the Spiritual Exercises, framed by an extensive prologue and a musing epilogue. The prologue focuses on the well-known text by Teresa of Avila, “What do You want to do with me?”: it expresses the central motive of in fact the entire Spiritual Exercises, namely surrender and trust. Each subsequent movement begins with a quote from the Exercises, which is complemented musically and textually by choir and ensemble. The epilogue is a song that combines and reconciles different themes from the cantata, just as the retreatant at the end of the retreat reconciles with Christ.