On 10th November 2020, with most of the planet still grappling with the challenge and jeopardy of the Covid-19 pandemic, locked down at home in London, I received a message from Sid Davis, Director of Music and Fine Arts at St Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, wondering if I might consider a commission to address the new, strange and difficult world in which we all found ourselves. Perhaps it would be something to look forward to when live, collective performances were once again filling churches, concert halls, colleges and schools. An idea immediately came to me, which probably means it had been quietly fermenting in my subconscious for a while.
Unconditional Love, as it became, is at its heart a work of gratitude, of memorial and of hope for a world rebuilt. It gives thanks to all those whose sacrifice and selflessness has been so powerful and so moving a feature of the Covid-19 crisis. It honours those who have died, as carers, as patients, as family members and dear friends. It seeks to offer comfort and solace to the grieving. It reflects on how much we took for granted about our relatively charmed existence before the pandemic and how much we learned, once more, about the simple needs and pleasures that became ordinary lifelines in the lockdown. For many people, the restriction on constant activity and travel, irksome though it undoubtedly was, allowed them a more considered view of their community and their immediate surroundings. For the young it has been particularly hard. They will also take a heavier than normal load in the rejuvenation and reconstruction that must follow. They represent our hope. They will not let us down.
This is an especially personal piece for me, since I have written a fair amount of the text myself, and because of my relationship with the musical family of St Luke’s, who will give it its world premiere. It is not an explicitly religious work, though it belongs in one sense to a long tradition of cantatas and oratorios. Choirs of all kinds, in all places, will find, I hope, common cause with its themes and aspirations. There is no greater privilege as a composer than to find a space and a voice for communities to pause, for a moment, to mark – together – the perils of the journey and the passing of the storm.
© 2021 Howard Goodall