But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.
John 20 : 24–25
This story appeals to me because it presents a small vignette on doubt and questioning. Despite being embedded in the cult of Jesus, Thomas refuses to believe in Jesus’s resurrection without evidence: he insists on his own physical reality and questions the views of his closest friends. This questioning seems to me to be an important part of how one might approach the world and live in it.
I have previously set out to write music with literary or philosophical grains of inspiration despite the impossibility of establishing a direct correlation for the listener between a performed musical experience and the myriad connotations made and thoughtways taken during the writing process. To adapt Gaston Bachelard’s analysis of the poet and their image to the composer and their material: ‘The composer does not confer the past of their material upon me, and yet their material immediately takes root in me. Materials excite us — afterwards — but they are not the phenomena of an excitement’ (The Poetics of Space, 1969, p.xvii). I am not sure I can entirely say why this has proved a fruitful paradox to pursue for me, but given the impossibility inherent in it, I might compare the writing process to running towards a place that does not exist, and that which results — the music — to the dust thrown into the air by my heels.
The Incredulity of St Thomas was written for performance by the Talea Ensemble at the Harvard Summer Composition Institute, August 2012. I am grateful to the Solti Foundation for supporting my participation in this project.