Heloise to Abelard is in effect a scena for mezzo-soprano and piano, lasting about 15-16 minutes and based on the idea of the correspondence between these two famous medieval lovers – Peter Abelard, the monk and philosopher whose career was dogged by controversy but who was famed as one of the greatest teachers of his age, and Heloise, a highly intelligent and beautiful woman who fell in love with him when he was her tutor. Once their liaison, which they had pursued with considerable enthusiasm, was discovered, a band of thugs hired by her uncle and guardian (was he jealous?) castrated Abelard, forcing him to escape to a monastery far away, and for years the lovers were out of communication with each other. Abelard had persuaded Heloise to become a nun, and their correspondence, initially passionate (if the early, recently rediscovered letters are
indeed authentic), became in later years those between a student and a teacher. Heloise, however, never renounced the depth of her passion for Abelard, and rejoiced in the love they had shared, even when she became Abbess of a distinguished Convent.
I decided to write my own text, based on the images presented in their correspondence but using my own words, in an effort to convey the changes in their relationship, and the work, which is continuous, falls into four sections: the springtime of their love, increasing passion and turbulence, the hatred from outside forces and the catastrophe, and finally the new relationship, balanced between her reverence for him as teacher and her eternal love for him as a man. I have deliberately omitted several important elements (their marriage, for instance, which she entered into unwillingly saying they had nothing to apologise for and she saw it as a kind of apology), on the basis that these do not affect the essence of the relationship and its gradual change.
John McCabe, 2005