Loosely adapted from the "Heiligenstadt Testament" (the anguished 1802 letter in which Beethoven confronts the horror of his growing deafness) Todd wrote "A Silence Haunts Me" for composer Jake Runestad's ACDA Brock Memorial Commission.
It was performed for two standing ovations at the 2019 American Choral Directors Association conference in Kansas City, a recording that has had 125,000 views on Youtube.
It has since been performed at Carnegie Hall and around the world.
It had a second premiere in April 2022, backed by full orchestration, with Lincoln Symphony, conducted by Edward Polochick. It was paired with Beethoven's Ninth.
Written in the style of a handwritten letter, the text was informed in part by Todd's visit to the Austrian town of Heiligenstadt, the secluded spa town where Beethoven was sent to "recover" his hearing, which of course he never did.
Runestad scored the text by adapting themes Beethoven was developing at the time he wrote the letter. The work ends in a crushing silence, as the conductor conducts a choir the audience can no longer hear, enacting deafness and practically forcing the audience to empathize.
It's a masterpiece.
— Dale Warland
Boss has taken the fundamentals of Beethoven’s letter and spun it into a libretto
that places the reader/listener into the same small, rented room
as one of the most towering figures of the Romantic Era.
—Dr. Jonathan Talberg
Collaborating with Todd has been one of the greatest gifts of my creative life.
Each new project holds a thrill of ideas, a constructive push-and-pull of directions,
and always, a profound look at what it means to be human. He continues
to challenge me and inspire me with his brilliance and sensitivity.
— Jake Runestad
The full text is below. Todd spaced it erratically, renounced punctuation, isolated pronouns, and left margins ragged, to evoke a handwritten letter and a distraught state of mind.
A Silence Haunts Me
Hear me, brothers —
I’ve a confession painful to make.
Six years I have endured a curse
that deepens every day. They say
that soon I’ll cease to hear the very
music of my soul. What should be
the sense most perfect in me
fails me, shames me, taunts me.
A silence haunts me.
They ask me —
Do you hear the shepherd singing
far-off soft? — Do you hear a distant
fluting dancing joyously aloft?
— No. — I think so? — No. — I
think so? — No.
God, am I Prometheus? — exiled
in chains for gifting humakind
my fire? Take my feeling —
take my sight — take my wings
midflight but let me hear the
searing roar of air before I score
Why? — Silence is God’s reply
— and so I beg me take my life — when lo — I hear a grace and feel
a ringing in me after all —
so now as leaves of autumn fall, I
make my mark and sign my name
and turn again to touch my flame
of music to the world, a broken
man, as best I can,
(— A bell? — A bell?)
and be well.
The musical result is a theatrical monologue. The entire choir becomes Beethoven,
pen in hand at a desk in Heiligenstadt. He writes hesitantly, with frequent pauses—either for reflection or emotion. The piano sometimes bangs senselessly, as if Beethoven is trying to hear what he plays. A lament is led by the altos: his friends
ask him “Do you hear?” and the tenors and basses are his unspoken response,
“No.” Recalling the recently composed ballet The Creatures of Prometheus,
Boss’s paraphrase compares Beethoven to Prometheus, being punished for
gifting humanity with fire—in this case, the fire of his music. Runestad adapts
the fugue from Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony and barrels into an impassioned
plea to God, reaching operatic despair. When all seems lost, the piano plays
as a distant bell. Amid wisps of the Ode to Joy, Beethoven resolves rapturously to
gift his “music to the world … as best I can."
—Choral Arts Northwest
Commission Todd or Jake to write an original work for your choir or orchestra using the contact form on Todd's ABOUT page.
After Jake brought me the concept for this piece, the lines "Hear me" and "A silence comes for me" woke me in the middle of the night in London. I wrote the first drafts the next day on a flight home to Minneapolis. My seat-mates must have wondered what was up! I wrote for almost the entire 7-hour flight, crying at times, shaking at others, possessed. I've never been so fully absorbed in the writing of anything in my life.