petr eBen’s organ cycle job (1987)
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The Biblical book of Job has long been recognised as one of the great works of world literature, even independently of its specific significance within the Judeo-Christian tradition. It deals with the question of theodicy: Why does God allow the righteous to suffer? Apart from the obvious interest the book holds for theologians, it has also fascinated many philosophers, artists and specifically composers. The organ cycle Job (1987) by the Czech composer Petr Eben (1929-2007) is an example of such creative engagement in musical form. The present article explores this work and argues that it is not only an important contribution to the contemporary literature for organ, but puts forward a highly compelling theological interpretation of its subject matter. It represents Eben’s continued interest in a topic that had already found expression in his earlier organ cycle Faust (1979/80), i.e. in “the wager between Satan and God on the fate of a human being” (Eben, 1989:iv). Eben gives the Old Testament story a decidedly Christian turn by creating a link between Job and Christ. Musically this interpretation is made manifest by the incorporation of several Christian hymn melodies, such as Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten, Veni creator spiritus and Kristus, příklad pokory. Instead of presenting a continuous programmatic depiction of the story, the work divides into eight movements, each dealing with a specific theme inherent in the topic: Destiny, Faith, Acceptance of Suffering, Longing for Death, Despair and Resignation, Mystery of Creation, Penitence and Realisation, and God’s Reward. The movements are all discussed and analysed individually so as to reveal their particular theological and musical substance and their significance within the work as a whole. The article hopes to show that the questions raised by the ancient book of Job continue to be relevant to this very day.