The Music of Elizabeth Alexander

Immortal Love

An elegantly sculpted chorale about eternal and abiding love

Music: Elizabeth Alexander

Words: John Greenleaf Whittier

A contemplative setting of one of Whittier’s best known poems, with a plaintive melody, compelling inner voices, and modal harmony reminiscent of early American hymns.

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Composer Notes

Composer Notes

Everything about John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem “Immortal Love” is timeless. Its eight short lines overflow with transcendent words like “forever,” eternal,” and “never-ending.” When I was considering setting this lyric, I realized the music would need to suggest nothing less than the Truth beyond all human understanding.

Yeah, right.

At the time I was setting Whittier’s poem to music, I was mom to two young and very active boys. Their bodies ran headlong through the world, and their curious minds were clicking and sparking every minute of the day. When I thought of words like “never-ending,” what generally came to mind was laundry and dirty dishes. So when I sat down at the piano to work on this song I had to consciously move myself into a still place.

It wasn’t easy. I would periodically close my eyes and take long breaths. I repeatedly reminded myself that the most profound music is often the most simple music. At the same time, I wanted every voice part to listen deeply to every other voice part, so that they would move through time and space in an interconnected way. One week of composing turned into two, and then three. How could I possibly spend so much time on a fourteen measure piece? But every day I kept sitting at the piano and closing my eyes and taking deep breaths, until one day I made the last small adjustment and there it was: A luminous braid of silken cords.

It’s an illusion, of course, as is all art. If there is any small suggestion of “the Truth beyond human understanding” in my setting of “Immortal Love,” it’s still just a suggestion, a clumsy reminder that beyond the boundaries of our small lives there exists some incomprehensible beauty and order. But the act of composing this song gave me a small glimpse of that incomprehensible thing. Hopefully it might do the same for you.


Immortal Love

Immortal love, forever full, forever flowing free.
Forever shared, forever whole, a never-ending sea.

Our outward lips confess the name all other names above,
but love alone knows whence it came and comprehendeth love.

Blow winds of love, awake and blow the mists of hate away,
Sing out, O Truth divine, and tell how wide and far we stray.

The letter fails, the systems fall, and every symbol wanes;
The Spirit overseeing all, Eternal Love, remains.

John Greenleaf Whittier



Premiere: Choir of Unitarian Church of Lincoln / Sheila Brown (Lincoln, NE)
Choir of All Souls Episcopal Parish / Jamie Apgar (Berkeley, CA)
Choir of Bethlehem Lutheran Church of Minneapolis / David Mennicke (Minneapolis, MN)
Choir of Boise Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship / Tom van Alten (Boise, ID)
Choir of First Presbyterian Church of Lancaster / Simon Andrews (Lancaster, PA)
Choir of First Unitarian Church of Toledo / Gladys Rudolph (Toledo, OH)
Choir of Home Moravian Church / Lynda Alexander (Winston‑Salem, NC)
Choir of House of Hope Presbyterian Church / Thomas Lancaster (St. Paul, MN)
Choir of Jefferson Unitarian Church of Golden, CO / Keith Arnold. National Cathedral (Washington, DC)
Choir of Kingston Unitarian Fellowship / Phyllis Robbins (Kingston , ON)
Choir of Prairie Unitarian Universalist Church / Barbara Park (Madison, WI)
Choir of Richfield United Methodist Church / Elizabeth Alexander (Minneapolis, MN)
Choir of Unitarian Church of Charleston / Martha Welch (Charleston, SC)
Choir of Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham / James Sullivan (Birmingham, AL)
Choir of Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington-Normal / Gary Gletty (Bloomington, IL)
Choir of Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Myers / Phillip Hildreth (Fort Myers, FL)
Choir of Unitarian Universalist Church of Savannah / Kelly Blackmarr Carlile (Savannah, GA)
Colonial Chamber Singers / Timothy Takach (Edina, MN)
Concordia University Christus Chorus / David Mennicke (Bloomington, IL; Des Peres, MO; Hot Springs, AR; Falls City, NE)
Concordia University Christus Chorus / David Mennicke (Luverne and St. Paul, MN)
Festival Choir of Madison / Eric Townell (Madison, WI)
Festival Choir of Madison and Stoughton High School Choir / Eric Townell (Stoughton, WI)
Heidelberg College-Community Chorus / Grant William Cook III (Tiffin, OH)
Sage Chapel Choir / Richard Riley (Ithaca, NY)
Sherwood High School Chamber Singers / Bill Evans (Rockville and Sandy Spring, MD)
ZONTA International Choir / Wolfgang Ziegler. Benefit Concert for Zonta International (Vienna, AUSTRIA)