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The theme of this work, commissioned by l'Octuor de Violoncelles de Beauvais, is related to the moving story of the leper house of Saint Lazarus, the oldest leper hospital in northern Europe. The remains of the hospital, dating from the 12th century, lie close to Beauvais.
Arvo Pärt (2004): "This cello octet have wanted a work from me for many years, but, for various reasons, I could never accept the commission. But when information about this leper colony was mentioned in other conversations, I pricked up my ears. A sentence by Isaac of Syria suddenly occurred to me, that addresses the question of what absolute love is with the following answer: "Father Agathon knew this, he who was prepared to exchange his body with that of a leper. Naturally a composer is not capable of this, but nevertheless these words about Agathon have never left me."
Arvo Pärt came across a legend concerning the patriarch Agathon, from the 4th century, in a book containing stories of The Desert Fathers. They take us back to the cradle of Christian monasticism, in the Egyptian desert, the narrative telling of the meeting between the hermit Agathon and the leper. Agathon is tested several times by the leper. Not until after he has passed these tests does the leper reveal himself as an angel sent by God, and blesses Agathon.