• Ross Edwards
  • Symphony No. 2 (1997)
    (Earth Spirit Songs)

  • Wise Music G. Schirmer Australia Pty Ltd (World)

Commissioned by Andrew Kaldor as a special gift for Renata; First performance by David Zinman, Yvonne Kenny, Sydney Symphony — 21 Aug 98. Sydney Opera House; Sources for text: Plainsong, Judith Wright and Hildegard von Bingen This is a revised (double wind) version made by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra to be performed during COVID

  • S + 2/pic.2/ca.2/bcl.2/cbn/
  • Soprano
  • 21 min 28 s

Programme Note

For Soprano and Orchestra

I. Invocation and Dance of The Holy Spirit

II. The Lost Man III. Dance-Song to the Earth Mother

In August 1995, while we were both on tour in Europe with the Sydney Symphony, Yvonne Kenny and I discussed the possibility of my writing for her a substantial work for soprano and orchestra. I experienced the first impulses for what was to become Earth Spirit Songs as I walked on the shore of Lake Lucerne, a sublime setting, inspirational to Wagner, but alien to the Pacific Ocean music that was welling up inside me.

I was to feel this contrariety most keenly in the following weeks as the orchestra progressed through Germany: the inevitable split, for a non-indigenous Australian, between cultural origins and birthplace. I can recognise now that it is finished, that this symphony represents, in part, an attempt to reconcile these opposites as well as the ones implicit in the subtitle.

As usual with me, the text was assembled in a piecemeal fashion dictated by the musical impulse. The work opens with a fragment of plainchant invoking the Holy Spirit, the life force, the imagination, and this is sent whirling in an ecstatic Australian dervish dance whose rhythmic patterns and drones are modelled on those of the natural world.

The text of the Introit from the Mass of Pentecost, blazing with patriarchal fervour and treated with a degree of irony, now gets caught up in the dance until it is propelled, as if by descending helicopter, into the mystical depths of Judith Wright’s rainforest. Here the euphoria evaporates and we are confronted by primeval forces that would efface the psyche and absorb it into the eternal cycles of nature.

The impulse to dance returns with Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th century Rhineland mystic. I’ve adapted one of her texts, O viridissima Virga, a characteristically sensual celebration of the miracle of spring, when the earth sweats life-giving sap through its pores to germinate fresh green growth. My setting of Hildegard is, I think, distinctively antipodean.

Ross Edwards



Edwards Symphony No. 2 Score


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