The story of Héloïse and Abelard, ill-starred lovers of the early twelfth century, is universally known, and a mountain of books has been written about them, some scholarly, some largely fictional. In making this libretto the composer has avoided the works of fiction and drawn only on Abelard's Historia Calamitatum in which he tells the tragic story in an open "Letter to a Friend", his letters to Héloïse, and most of all on Héloïse's passionate letters to Abelard. Two of Abelard's Latin Hymns, written at her request for Héloïse and the nuns of the Paraclete, are included; also his Planctus or Lament and a tenth-century lovesong, both sung in English, and a popular Latin song for the Students.
Héloïse emerges as the stronger and more remarkable character, despite Abelard's eminence as a philosopher, his brilliance and magnetism: students flocked to hear him from all parts. Héloïse herself was a distinguished scholar and later became the renowned Abbess of the Paraclete and founded six daughter houses. She was revered and beloved by everyone. But the Cantata is concerned only with her relationship to Abelard, and ends with his death. The Cantata is in Nine Sections. For those passages sung in Latin an English translation by William Le Fanu is given in the booklet.