“…I was held fast, not in fetters clamped upon my by another, but by my own will, which had the strength of iron chains. […] the new will which had come to life in me and made me wish to serve you freely and enjoy you, my God, who are our only certain joy, was not yet strong enough to overcome the old, hardened as it was by the passage of time. So these two wills within me, one old, one new, one the servant of the flesh, the other of the spirit, were in conflict and between them they tore my soul apart.
From my own experiences I now understood […] that the impulses of nature and the impulses of the spirit are at war with one another.”
These words of Saint Augustine, from his Confessions (Book VIII), talk of the human will, or wills, that inhabit each person's mind, battling for supremacy in our every decision. Being creatures blessed with a free will (or, in the words of Thomas Aquinas, a ‘capacity to desire’), the battle, which never ends, is not easily surmountable. As the title implies, lent takes as its inspiration the 40-day season of Lent, the most penitential time of the Christian year, when this battle of the will(s) is made the focus of attention. It is to the season's spirit of discipline and self-restraint that Lent aspires.
The piece explores this principally through four traditional Lenten themes: temptation, conflict, suffering and transfiguration. The connection is also shown in the work’s structure, consisting of 40 bars, each exactly the same length and duration. These themes are explored dramatically, the material being gradually ‘tempted’ to accede to more and more corruptions of the work’s underlying metre and pulse. Eventually lost in virtually meaningless material, the music is forced to retrace its steps in order to try to reclaim something of what was aspired to at the outset. As this is tentatively achieved, towards the end of the piece, six final ‘homages’ are played, dedicated to a variety of saints whose commemorations frequently fall within Lent (as well as to a variety of ‘saints’ who have been significant in my spiritual life), for whom this victory was shared.