Commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and first performed by the BBC Singers, conducted by Sofi Jeannin, at St Paul's Church, Knightsbridge, London, UK on the 27th September 2019.

  • SATB
  • 20 min
  • Nick Drake & Greta Thunberg

Programme Note

A few years ago, a friend gave me the book of Nick Drake’s long form poem Farewell Glacier. It was written after a trip to the Arctic with the voyager Noorderlicht boat with the Art and Climate Change organisation, Cape Farewell. I was haunted by its message and was inspired to write another environmental work, having written the Water Diviner’s Tale for the Proms in 2007, which was described in the press as a "call to arms on climate change to the younger generation”. In July 2018 when I was offered a commission from the BBC Singers I approached Nick with a view to collaborate on a new piece together. We met and exchanged ideas. I was interested in writing something that could express the Earth’s voice, if we could find a place of quiet stillness to really listen. We agreed we wanted to create a piece that focussed on listening as opposed to declamatory catastrophic warnings filled with doom. We were also interested to write something that could embrace the earth’s beauty in a contemplative way. Shortly after our discussions, Greta Thunberg had made her mark as a young climate activist and Nick wanted to include her words in the poem alongside his own.

Nick responded with a poem, Earth Song, which takes the form of a conversation within the human mind and body as it breathes. The choir represents different thoughts and elemental landscapes on earth that manifest as thoughts might present themselves within the chatter of the thinking mind as it endeavours to still itself. The landscapes are both real and internal within the body. Ultimately we are seeking to express that humans are as one with the earth and inseparable.

As the human mind, the choir pass thoughts and sung words to one another, then they come together to breathe as one, mirroring the balance between night and day, the ebb and flow of the tides, together with the human act of breathing in and out. As the landscapes becomes bigger, and the noise of our human world becomes more and more crazy, the mind endeavours to still itself to really listen to the earth’s message.

A young girl interpolates her message between each verse, in the powerful words of Greta Thunberg, entreating us to listen.

I wanted to set the words very clearly and purely as it were in a suspended musical representation of the mind always coming back to a point of stillness as if in a meditation to mirror the poem; to evoke the beauty of the earth, to be within her beauty, as well as an observer.

At the end of the coda in the silence we invite the audience to listen implicating them in this work. We also invite the audience not to break the silence until the conductor has indicated the piece has ended.