• Sunleif Rasmussen
  • Symphony No. 2 "The Earth Anew" (2015)

  • Edition Wilhelm Hansen Copenhagen (World)

Unavailable for performance.

  • 3.3.2+bcl.2+cbn/4331/timp.3perc/pf/str
  • TTBB
  • S,Bar
  • 1 hr

Programme Note

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This symphony was commissioned by John Storgårds and the Helsinki Philharmonic to celebrate the 150 years anniversary of Sibelius. John Storgårds had in mind to create a “twin piece” to the Symphonic Poem by Sibelius called “Kullervo” for large Orchestra, male Choir, soprano and baritone soloists. The text he suggested was from the old Icelandic Saga, called Edda, in the Old North language.

It was therefore clear to me from the start that I should write a large scaled Symphony, and the text I chose from the Edda, was the text about the “Tree of life” called “Yggdrasil”.

“Yggdrasil” has three roots, going to three places. One is going to Asgard, the home of the Gods. By this root is a well called Urd’s well. Another root is going to Jotunheim - the home of the Giants. By this root is Mimir’s well. And the third root is going to Helheim (Hell). Here is a well called Hvergelmir, where the dragon Nidhug is sucking the blood out of the dead bodies, and is also gnawing at the root beneath. In the crown of the tree Yggdrasil lives an eagle and a squirrel, Ratatosk. The eagle in the crown and the dragon Nidhug at the root in Helheim are bitter enemies, and Ratatosk is spreading gossip between the two, running up and down the tree.

To tell this very dramatic story, written in a very direct language of the Nordic sagas, and as the largest possible contrast to the soft lyrical passages at the end of the Symphony, I wanted to write music with the energy and rhythmical drive of “Heavy Metal” music, with the refinements and nuances possible in a live symphony orchestra. The echo of the Sagas can still be felt at my home, The Faroe Islands, where nature and sea are all-dominating, and strongly enhances ones feeling of an imaginary world. Since I was a child I have been fascinated by the natural sounds of the Islands, where the big waves meet the high cliffs and produce a high smashing sound, and waves that are pushed into the deep caves and produce sub bass-like sounds. This is the soundscape I also wanted to compose into the work.

The first movement sets the mood for the saga by an agitating music, shifting between darkness and light. Towards the end of the movement the music calms down, and the choir enters, presenting the mood of the tree “Yggdrasil”, and at the very end the two soloists appear from a far distance. A comment from the first two humans on earth according to the Edda: Ask and Embla.

The second movement has mostly its text from the Eddas description of the creation of the Earth. “The Creation” tells how the Earth itself was made from the god, Ymir´s, flesh and that “the trees were made of his hair, his sweat made the sea, and of his scull the sky was made.” In this movement the sun is fleeing from the wolfs, “the sun fares swiftly and almost as if she were afraid: She could not hasten her course any the more if she feared her destruction. ((((It is no marvel that she hastens furiously, close come he that seeks her, and she has no escape, save to run away.”)))) The movement ends with the suffering of the Ash Tree “Yggdrasil” when the dragon Nidhug is gnawing on the root.

The third movement is a Scherzo, by tradition a movement with a humorous character. I added the description impromptu, to describe the nature of the gossiping spread around by the squirrel Ratatosk. Gossip, with its lack of depth, is without a clear goal, without direction, fragmented and “improvised”. The only things holding this movement together are two small motives, which runs throughout the movement.

The fourth movement describes in the first part the end of the world, “Ragnarok”. Everything is falling apart and being destroyed. The sun is falling into the sea. So is the Earth. “The sun turns black, earth sinks in the sea. The hot stars down from heaven are whirled. Fierce grows the steam and the life-feeding flame till fire leaps high above heaven itself.”
But one third into the movement “the new Earth” is rising again from the sea and everything starts growing in a new way.

This is a Symphony about being a human being on the planet “Earth”, with the always returning chaos and orders - and other chaos and other orders. When I wrote the Symphony I was constantly reminded of the actuality of this old text written down approximately 1000 years ago, and of the fact that the human beings are moving very slowly in becoming more “human”, so to speak.

- Sunleif Rasmussen