Sara Kirkland Snider ~ Composer of Music


On December 16 and 17, 2018, George Steel’s Vox Vocal Ensemble gave the world premiere of You Must Feel with Certainty, for choir and percussion, at New York’s Guggenheim Museum. You Must Feel with Certainty was commissioned in 2018 by Guggenheim Works & Process to celebrate Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future, the Guggenheim’s retrospective of Hilma af Klint, the pioneering and long under-recognized Swedish female abstract artist.

Sarah writes in her program note for the piece: “The Guggenheim gave me access to some of her recently-translated journals, in which I found the text for this piece. Af Klint practiced automatic writing and drawing, creating work at the behest of spirits she channeled in seances with a group of four other women called ‘The Five.’ With this text, titled simply “September 16, 1903,” it’s unclear whether Hilma channeled these words or wrote them to herself. Regardless, they seem to speak not only to the faith and tenacity required by the creative process, but presciently, to the recognition of Hilma’s artwork, which over a century later now finds itself in bloom.

Deeply inspired by Hilma’s art, openness, and story, while writing this piece I strove to open myself to voices I don’t always hear. The full text as found in her journal is as follows:

September 16, 1903 

You are bewildered by what we have told you, but the phenomenon we are trying to explain is truly bewildering. What is this phenomenon, you ask? Well, beloved, it is that which we want to call the secret growing. How often have we heard you say that everything is futile, that nothing comes of all your labors. Yet like amorphous buds your endeavors sprout in all directions. You see everything as formless and you forget that this is a sign of life. Gradually the formlessness takes on more precise contours and the steadily growing roots feed an ever stronger plant, which will one day explode with an abundance of leaves and flowers. You know this is so, but you must perceive this knowledge with such vividness that you dare to build on it. You have to feel with certainty that even the smallest effort to grow in goodness leaves a clear trace inside you. When you do not see an outer result, this must not discourage or tire you in your efforts, for just as invisible hands help and tend every plant on this green Earth, so every budding sprout of goodness is tended and shaped and protected by invisible powers and when the time comes your eyes will open and you too will see the beautiful plant that grew in secrecy, the product of your noble endeavors and your pure intentions. Accept our account as a greeting from us so that you shall never tire when all seems lost.”

Rick Perdian of Seen and Heard International reviewed the concert December 19, writing of Sarah’s piece: “A new work was also premiered, Sarah Kirkland Snider’s ‘You Must Feel with Certainty’. It was commissioned by the Guggenheim Museum for this concert to celebrate ‘Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future’, a current retrospective of the pioneering and long under-recognized Swedish female abstract artist’s works. Af Klint also practiced automatic writing and drawing, creating works at the behest of spirits that she channeled in seances. Snider set one of these texts, ‘September 16, 1903’, for chorus and percussion (it’s not known whether the words were channeled or if af Klimt wrote them herself).

‘You Must Feel with Certainty’ exploited the Rotunda’s unique acoustical qualities with high-pitched drones, antiphonal effects, glissandos in the marimba, vibraphone and voices and quick staccato passages. With her ability to paint words (especially vivid when it came to depicting sprouting plants) in music and convey ideas in sound, Snider creates music that is not only beautiful but intriguing, capturing the spirit of the Swedish mystic whose paintings could be glimpsed in the adjoining galleries.”

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