I Cannot Attain Unto It (2005)
I Cannot Attain Unto It is a setting of a section of Psalm 139 arranged such that certain syllables repeat and cycle around each other. The harmonic motion of the piece is through common tones, a method in which a single note is sustained through two related or unrelated keys. The use of the repetition is meant to be at once devotional and hypnotic. Mr. Muhly said he has been drawn to the psalms since he was a young child. “Their obsessive repetition and turns of phrase has always fascinated me. Every time I set one, I learn something new about the strategic use of repetition.” I Cannot Attain Unto It was commissioned by the Manhattan Choral Ensemble.
The Manhattan Choral Ensemble
Thomas Cunningham, conductor
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high, I cannot attain unto it.
Whither shall I go from thy spirit?
or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there:
if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
– Psalm 139, 6-8