Cycle Fleming Cycle Schumann Cycle Mahler

The Confession Stone
(The Songs of Mary) by Robert Fleming

Robert FlemingThis classic song cycle came about when John Newmark, mentor and collaborative pianist of Maureen Forrester phoned Robert Fleming.  The composer was in the midst of wallpaper hanging when called to the phone where he was told by Newmark: “I have found a wonderful set of poems, The Confession Stone, in the collection Beyond the Blues – New Poems by American Negroes (1962). You must set them to music for Maureen.” Newmark had become familiar with this poetry through Bernard Diamant, Ms. Forrester’s original vocal coach.

The poems are by the black playwright and teacher, Owen Dobson (1914 – 1983) and consist of songs to be sung by Mary, Joseph, Mary Magdalene, Jesus, Judas, and God. For the poet they were his conception of “their thoughts about themselves and others on that hard stone of confession on which most of us kneel sometime in our lives.”

After the musical settings were completed in 1966, Rev. Michael Fleming, son of the composer, recalls a performance at Sir George Williams College (now Concordia University in Montreal). Ms. Forrester in a beautiful gold, lamé gown sang European-composed Lieder during the first half of the recital. In the second half she appeared with a bedraggled, old shawl over the gown.  During the singing of The Confession Stone she became everybody’s Jewish mother in that hall and moved the audience to tears.

This cycle became one of Forrester’s most frequently performed works. After The Confession Stone had been published by Leeds Music (Canada) in 1968, she always took several copies of the score with her on tour.  Whenever a person expressed genuine interest in learning and performing the work, Ms. Forrester would give out a copy. Many other singers including Jessye Norman, Judith Forst, Catherine Robbins, Diane Loeb, Doris Parker, Anne Stick-Bedard, Gloria-Jean Nagy and Patricia Lee have performed this cycle in recitals. Berkeley Fleming, son of the composer, has stated: “The artistry and emotional impact of Forrester’s performances of The Confession Stone are impossible to exaggerate. I, resolutely irreligious and generally unsentimental, find it difficult to hear, or especially witness, any performance of this piece without being deeply moved.  I must have seen Forrester perform it ten times, anyway, the first being at either Loyola College or Sir George Williams in Montréal in 1966, the last at a retrospective concert given at the National Arts Centre a few weeks after my father’s death in 1976.”

Elaine Keillor

The Confession Stone

  1. O my boy: Jesus, my first and only son,
    Rock on my breast, my first and only son.
    Born of God and born near his sun, bright boy, my only son
    O my boy: Jesus: rest: you need the rest.
  1. Don’t pay attention to the old men in the temple: they have given up.
    tell them what you told me: cast the sinners out,
    clean the house of God, load the rich with grief,
    prepare the poor with hope and Jesus,
    don’t stop to play with Judas and his friends along the way.
  1. Jesus, did you know that Lazarus is back? Jesus, are you list’ning?
              Laz’rus has come back. His grave is still open and Martha
              tells she heard three angels singing with three birds:
              their feathers brushed together.
    Jesus, are you hearing? Laz’rus has returned to Bethany.
              Jesus, won’t you answer?
              Laz’rus has come back and he’s calling for you.
              He says that death was gentle and woke him up early.
    Jesus, are you praying? Laz’rus has returned.
  1. There’s a supper in Jerusalem tonight and I wish that I was there,
    I’ll journey anywhere to be with Jesus: to stroke his hair,
    Remind Him, O my baby dear, I’d journey anywhere to be with Jesus tonight.
    There’s that supper in Jerusalem tonight and I could be right there.
    But I don’t dare to journey to Jerusalem tonight.
    O my Jesus, you’re eating in Jerusalem tonight and I wish that I was there.
    O my boy, take care at that supper in Jerusalem tonight.
  1. Cold and icy in my bed: laid on the ground of Jerusalem: ev’ry flower is witherèd, the birds have left their song, the sun wears a twisted eye.
    I’m alone with your dream of redemption, my Lord.
    Save Him, save our son.
    I’m his mother: save Him:
    Let me rock Him again in my trembling arms.
    Save Him. I’ll receive the silver from Judas. Help Him.
    Your word is all my world.
    I’ll receive the silver from Judas’ hand and spend it on nothing.
    Save Him, Jehovah, help Him, my God,
    Bless Him, my Lord, redeem Him, my husband.
    Oh save Him, save Him, save Him, save Him, save our boy.
  1. Bring me those needles, Martha, I believe I’ll knit Jesus a scarf.
    Go on snapping those butterbeans.
    What time is it? Let me see now: knit one.
    You say it’s twelve o’clock?
    Snap enough for Joseph and Lazarus.
    They’ll be home before you’re through.
    Martha, what time is it?
    Purl two, purl one, knit one, purl two.
    If I had the star of Bethlehem,
    I’ll knit three and light His sky.
    Where was I, Martha? Oh yes, knit one, purl sev’n.
    What time is it, Martha?
    Knit three, purl ten.
    It can’t be near three o’clock.
    Where was I?  Knit, purl twelve, purl nothing.
    Martha, don’t leave me alone.
    Where are you Martha?  Martha!
  1. Everything is black, air, water, sun, moon, all light, dirt is black.
    Heav’n is in mourning for our Son.
    The earth is dead: it will rise again, Almighty God.
    Now I understand what light is: it is our Son.
    It is Jesus, no longer trembling in my arms: it is the Christ.
    O my boy: Jesus, my first and only one.
    Now on my knees with Joseph at my side, I ask Thee: send the resurrection now.
    Give the air and water and sun and the moon and the dirt, thy light again.
    Send the presence Almighty God, send it even to evil men.
    I see Jesus in the clouds, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh free Him from death for life:
    We must be free to sing:
    Loose the birds for their songs,
    Bloom the flow’rs for their songs,
    Light Martha, whose brother came back from death, light Mary Magdalene,
    light Gethsemane’s gardens:
    Light those walkways with lilies, and heal the wounds of Christ.
    Let me rise up into your starry sky and love our Son, and praise thee.
    Ah, comfort me in paradise.

     8.   This is a different musical setting of the words used in 1.