Program notes

But God Cannot Be Known, for choir (2003)

This short unaccompanied vocal piece sets words by Gordon Kalton Williams and is intended for unaccompanied four or eight part choir.  The work calls for a calm and reverential style of performance with real attention to the details of text and part-writing. The piece is a simple chorale or hymn drawn from the fourth sceneof the large-scale orchestral cantata, Journey to Horseshoe Bend. That work tells the story of Pastor Carl Strehlow’s final journey through Central Australia from Hermannsburg to Horseshoe Bend and was composed for the Sydney Symphony in 2002-03. The story of the journey is captured in the autobiographical novel of the same name by TGH Strehlow, Carl Strehlow’s son. It was this source that Gordon Kalton Williams adapted to create the libretto for the cantata.

Gordon drew the text of this hymn from Luther’s German version of the Old Testament Book of Job where Job, having experienced numerous horrific travails, contemplates the profound mystery of God. The German passage literally translated means: “Why have you set your mark against me, so that I am a burden even to myself?”


But God cannot be known

Nor made to answer men

No use in us demanding

The meaning of our pain.

‘Warum machst du mich zum Ziel dein Anläufe

dass ich mir selbst eine Last bin?’

© Andrew Schultz, 2003

Live Performance at the Memorial Church, Harvard by the Harvard University singers conducted by Ed Jones, April 2023.


Original version of But God Cannot Be Known from Scene 4 of Journey Horseshoe Bend – it can be heard from the 4 minute 25 second mark in the above excerpt.