• Kenneth Leighton
  • Earth, Sweet Earth (1986)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by Neil Mackie

1. Prelude - There was no thought
2. Inversnaid
3. Contemplation - In the snow
4. The Ashtree
5. Binsey Poplars
6. Hurrahing in Harvest
7. Ribblesdale

  • Tenorpf
  • 40 min

Programme Note

Earth, Sweet Earth…, Op. 94
(Laudes Terrae)
Solo Cantata for Tenor Voice and Pianoforte

"There was no thought in any of us…"

There was not thought in any of us for a moment of their being clouds. They were clear as crystal, sharp on the pure horizon sky, and already tinged with rose by the sinking sun. Infinitely beyond all that we had ever thought or dreamed - the seen walls of lost Eden could not have been more beautiful to us; not more awful, round heaven, the walls of sacred Death.

It is not possible to imagine, in any time of the world, a more blessed entrance into life, for a child of such a temperament as mine… In perfect health of life and fire of heart, not wanting to be anything but the boy I was, not wanting to have anything more than I had; knowing of sorrow only just so much as to make life serious to me, not enough to slacken in the least its sinews; and with so much of science mixed with feeling as to make the sight of the [Hills] not only the revelation of the beauty of the earth, but the opening of the first page of its volume - I went down that evening from the garden terrace… with my destiny fixed in all of it that was to be sacred and useful. To that terrace - and that shore - my heart and faith return to this day, in every impulse that is yet nobly alive in them, and every thought that has in it help or peace…
(John Rushkin-Praeterita)


This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A windpuff-bonnet of fáwn-fróth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, féll-frówning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern.
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
(Gerard Manley Hopkins)

CONTEMPLATION - In the snow…

In the snow flat-topped hillocks and shoulders outlined with wavy edges, ridge below ridge, very like the grain of wood in line and in projection like relief maps. These the wind makes I think and of course drifts, which are in fact snow waves. The sharp nape of a drift is sometimes broken by slant flutes or channels. I think this must be when the wind after shaping the drift first has changed and cast waves in the body of the wave itself.

All the world is full of inscape, and chance left free to act falls into an order as well as purpose: looking out of my window I caught it in the random clods and broken heaps of snow made by the cast of a broom… The sun was bright, the broken brambles and all boughs and banks limed and cloyed with white, the brook down the clough pulling its way by drops and by bubbles in turn under a shell of ice…
(Gerard Manley Hopkins - Journals)


(April 8th)
The ashtree growing in the corner of the garden was felled. It was lopped first: I heard the sound and looking out and seeing it maimed there cane at that moment a great pang and I wished to die and not to see the inscapes of the world destroyed any more.
(Gerard Manley Hopkins - Journals)

BINSEY POPLARS (felled 1879)

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
All felled, felled, are all felled;
Of a fresh and following folded rank
Not spared, not one
That dandled a sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow and river and wind-wandering
Weed-winding bank.

O if we but knew what to do
When we delve or hew -
Hack and rack the growing green!
Since country is so tender
To touch, her being só slender,
That, like this sleek and seeing ball
But a prick will make no eye at all,
Where we, even where we mean
To mend her we end her,
When we hew or delve:

After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
Strokes of havoc únselve
The sweet especial scene,
Sweet especial rural scene.
(Gerard Manley Hopkins)


Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks rise
Around; up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour
Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-wavier,
Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies?

I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes,
Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour;
And, éyes, heárt, what looks, what lips yet gave you a
Rapturous love's greeting of realer, of rounder replies?

And the azurous hung hills are his world-wielding shoulder
Majestic - as a stallion stalwart, very-violet - sweet! -
These things, these things were here and but the beholder
Wanting; which two when they once meet,
The heart rears wings bold and bolder
And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet.
(Gerard Manley Hopkins)


Earth, sweet Earth, sweet landscape with leavès throng
And louched low grass, heaven that dost appeal
To, with no tongue to plead, no heart to feel;
That canst but only be, but dost that long -

Thou canst but be, but that thou well dost; strong
Thy plea with him who dealt, nay does now deal,
Thy lovely dale down thus and thus bids reel
Thy river, and o'er gives all to rack or wrong.

And what is Earth's eye, tongue, or heart else, where
Else, but in dear and dogged man? - Ah, the heir
To his own selfbent so bound, so tied to his turn,
To thriftless reave both our rich round world bare
And none reck of world after, this bids wear
Earth brows of such care, care and dear concern.
(Gerard Manley Hopkins)


In March 1985 Neil Mackie joined the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra for the first performance of my Symphony 3 (Laudes Musicae) for tenor and orchestra, a work which contains settings of poems about the art of music, and was commissioned by the BBC. A previous work for Tenor and organ, These are thy wonders had also been commissioned by Neil Mackie for the 1981 St. Magnus Festival. The idea of a songcycle or solo cantata (as I prefer to call it) was suggested by the same soloist in March 1985, and this work was completed in July 1986. The proposal was welcomed not only because of a special sympathy which became apparent in the two earlier works, but also because of my renewed personal interest in the piano both as performer and composer.

The hills and countryside of Scotland in particular have been a source of wonder and inspiration for many years, and a previous large-scale choral work "Laudes Montium", composed in 1975 for the centenary of St. Andrews University Musical Society, is preoccupied with a similar theme and its mystical connotations. A renewed interest in Ruskin also led back to the wonderful nostalgic visions of childhood expressed in his autobiographical 'Praeterita': and the work of GM Hopkins has always presented one of the highest challenges to composers wishing to scale the heights of poetry. So it turned out that in addition to attempting a setting of 'Inversnaid' with its obvious highland connection, I was led also to other great poems which recognise and praise the eternal on the `Sweet Earth' around us. Hopkins' vision, his wonder, his fear and his condemnation have all a powerful significance in our time. The religious faith which lies behind is openly referred to only in the setting of `Earth, sweet earth' in which the piano quotes from `Veni redemptor', a plainsong melody used in a very recent organ work. In fact throughout the work the piano plays a special and extended role in an attempt to express the meaning of Hopkins' incredibly rich poetry and prose.

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