Matt Van  Brink, composer, pianist, accordionist

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A Thousand Tender Passages (2007)

SATB chorus | 7 mins.
a setting of letters of George Washington

The text for the piece is excerpted from letters from George Washington to Sarah (”Sally”) Cary Fairfax – the first from 12 September 1758 and the other from 25 September 1758. In His Excellency: George Washington, historian Joseph J. Ellis writes:

The evidence is scanty, but convincing beyond any reasonable doubt, that George Washington had fallen in love with his best friend's wife… Just when the infatuation began, and whether it ever crossed the sexual threshold, has resisted surveillance by generations of historians and biographers. What we do know is based primarily on two letters Washington wrote to Sally Fairfax in September 1758 while serving in the Forbes campaign, and one letter he wrote near the end of his life in an uncharacteristically sentimental mood…

The earlier letters of 1758 are convoluted documents, in part because the act of writing them threw Washington into such emotional disarray that his grammar and syntax lost their customary coherence, in part because he deliberately used imprecise and elliptical language to prevent any prying eyes from knowing his secret.


‘Tis true, I profess myself a Votary to Love—I acknowledge that a Lady is in the Case—and further I confess that this Lady is known to you.—Yes Madam, as well as she is to one, who is too sensible of her Charms to deny the Power, whose Influence he feels and must ever Submit to. I feel the force of her amiable beauties in the recollection of a thousand tender passages that I coud wish to obliterate, till I am bid to revive them.—but experience alas! Sadly reminds me how Impossible this is.—and evinces an opinion which I have long entertained, that there is a Destiny, which has the Sovereign Controul of our Actions—not to be resisted by the Strongest efforts of Human Nature.

The World has no business to know the object of my Love, declard in this manner to you—you when I want to conceal it—One thing, above all things in this World I wish to know, and only one person of your Acquaintance can solve me that, or guess my meaning. —but adieu to this, till happier times, if I shall ever see them. . . .

Do we still misunderstand the true meaning of each others Letters? I think it must appear so, tho I would feign hope the contrary as I cannot speak plainer without—but I’ll say no more, and leave you to guess the rest. . . . I should think my time more agreeable spent believe me, in playing a part in Cato with the Company you mention, & myself doubly happy in being the Juba to such a Marcia as you must make. . . . One thing more and then have done. You ask if I am not tired at the length of your Letter? No Madam I am not, nor never can be while the Lines are an Inch asunder to bring you in haste to the end of the Paper. . . Adieu dear Madam, you possibly will hear something of me, or from me before we shall meet.

First performed by VocalEssence, Philip Brunelle, conductor
May 31, 2008, SPCO Center, St. Paul, Minn.

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