Thank God you’ve got a Job

The music label ECM is well known to fans of jazz, but also of avant-garde classical music. Recordings in the latter camp are by familiar composers like Arvo Pärt, John Adams, Steve Reich, John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen—and Meredith Monk, who Rob Berg and I (and friends) caught at the lovely John Anson Ford Theater last month as she celebrated her eightieth birth year in song, movement, and music with the Bang on a Can All-Stars.1

Aside from Monk’s music, which was profound yet playful, I must mention that we arrived early enough to witness a deep-teal-colored cloudless sky framed by the theater’s walls. I had to look away; I didn’t want its perfection to pass. I was reminded of the John McLaughlin title, “What Need Have I for This—What Need Have I for That—I Am Dancing at the Feet of My Lord—All Is Bliss—All Is Bliss.”2


Definitely not dancing, but rather writhing, complaining—confronting—is Job, whose challenge to his Lord is neatly summed in the Christian devotional cycle, Officium Defunctorum (Office of the Dead). Thirty years ago this month, ECM recorded Job’s Parce mihi domine, from the Office, coupled with kindred motets, by Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek and British quartet The Hilliard Ensemble, under the simple title of Officium. This arranged marriage was contrived by ECM founder Manfred Eicher, inspired by composer Cristóbal Morales’s sixteenth-century setting of the Office, which Eicher (re)heard while filming his Holozän, based on Max Frisch’s novel Man in the Holocene. In the booklet that accompanies the ECM release, Frisch mentions “driving through the jagged lava fields of Iceland” during filming, of his protagonist’s “encroaching isolation,” the landscape “a metaphor for the silencing of mankind whose history has come to an end.”

Silenced, Job is not. “Parce mihi domine”—”Let me alone [Lord]”…

7 16b Let me alone; for my days are vanity.
17 What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him?
18 And that thou shouldest visit him every morning, and try him every moment?
19 How long wilt thou not depart from me, nor let me alone till I swallow down my spittle?
20 I have sinned; what shall I do unto thee, O thou preserver of men? why hast thou set me as a mark against thee, so that I am a burden to myself?
21 And why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away my iniquity? for now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be.3

Job x Jung

In the introduction to his monograph on the subject, Answer to Job, Carl Jung writes of the dialectic involving physical and psychic truths.4 It’s akin to Kathleen Raine’s “Fact is not the truth of myth; myth is the truth of fact.”5 Take the notion of Mother Earth: psychically seductive but physically absurd. Our planet sustains life to be sure, but it has a molten core with a crusty, watery coat; genderless and capricious. Still, the “myth” of this orb, personified as Gaia, persists. And so in his Answer, Jung develops a “coming to terms” (literally) with the religious realm via his “intellect” in tandem with his “feeling.” That’s how I come to Job’s words, as dramatically the days darken here in Denver.

Parce mihi domine, this contemplation of the creator’s relation with the creature—and its departure—appears not once but thrice in the course of Officium: beginning, middle, end.

Morales is considered one of the finest composers of his time. The Garbarek/Hilliard collaboration proved very popular for ECM, prompting concert tours and a 2010 sequel, Officium Novum.6

My copy of Jung’s Answer is in storage, but if I recall correctly he credits Job with shaming God, who offers Jesus. But the latter’s shade remains, and it’s that shadow side of God-in-us with which we deal.

Header image:
Job’s Despair by William Blake
Butts set, June 1805

  1. Read why I was in L.A., working on Bachelors Anonymous recordings and celebrating B.A.’s fortieth anniversary.
  2. I’m grateful to my brother for introducing me to McLaughlin via Richard’s record collection during my yuletide visits to Boulder in the 1970s and 1980s.
  3. Latin version here. See also my mention of Job in Friendship Band, my survey of the music of Dan Wriggins and his band Friendship.
  4. C. J. Jung, Answer to Job, R. F. C. Hull trans., London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1954, xi–xviii.
  5. Raine is quoted without further reference by Theodore Roszak, Where the Wasteland Ends: Politics and Transcendence in Postindustrial Society, Garden City: Anchor/Doubleday, 1973, 123. I’m grateful to my mentor Charles Cameron for introducing me to Raine’s writing as well as gifting me with Jung’s Answer to Job.
  6. See the album’s Wikipedia entry.

10 Replies to “Thank God you’ve got a Job”

  1. Had the pleasure of seeing Jan Gabarek live with Eberhard Weber twice in Bangkok, once in an outdoor garden and then the flip side, on the ground floor of a shopping mall. Both were outstanding.

  2. Soothing. Hellish. Seductively wicked. The mercurial horn intertwined with the sedating chants is an unusual sound for me. I will be adding this to my list of “listen-to’s.” Thank you.

  3. I can’t decide whether the music opened up a deep chasm in the Earth for me or took me into Space. Both, I think. Wish we had more time together while you were out here.

  4. Completely forgot about this recording. I just purchased the album on iTunes. Thanks for enlightening us about Job and the Officium Defunctorum and Jung. Great combo!

  5. Apparently, per Wikipedia, the music was inspired by several composers: “Based on 12th- to 16th-century liturgical works by composers including Cristóbal de Morales and Perotinus Magnus, the album was recorded at the monastery of Propstei St. Gerold in Austria.”

    1. Exactly. Eicher’s initial inspiration was Morales’s setting of the entire Office, but nine of the motets on the album are by that very prolific composer, Anonymous. I played the CD last week while cooking dinner for George, who you met, and was transfixed by the final rendition of the Parce, with Garbarek’s little off note, the tiny flaw that proves the perfection. Later, looking at the album’s booklet, I did the math: thirty years.

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