• Ross Edwards
  • Vespers for Mother Earth (2020)

  • Wise Music G. Schirmer Australia Pty Ltd (World)
  • S + ch;
  • ch
  • Soprano
  • 1 hr

Programme Note

A few years ago, not long after a dazzling performance of my Tyalgum Mantras in the Dangrove Art Space by Continuum Sax and Will Barton, Helen, my wife and manager, and I were invited by philanthropist Judith Neilson to a meeting in her Chippendale office. Judith proposed to commission from me a large-scale work of about an hour’s duration for vocal and instrumental forces entirely of my own choosing.

The next few weeks were spent devising the following scheme.

Having always been strongly influenced by the sounds of Nature, I conceived the new work as a response to our present-day ecological crisis, as well as Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine (1610), Vespers for the Blessed Virgin. Full of symbols of the day and night, ranging from the manifest to the subliminal, it may be seen as a swansong for humankind or the hope of a new beginning – the renewal of an eternal cycle which would restore the feminine (night) principle after an often devastating ascendancy of the masculine (day).

The work is divided into seven major sections:


1.    To Invoke the Morning. A shaman with a bamboo flute (shakuhachi) ceremoniously breathes light and life into the void of night in a solo which loosely parodies the sacred meditational music (hokyoku) performed by Zen monks in their quest for enlightenment.

2.       Aria: Flame of the Sun. Inward contemplation gradually yields to riotous morning birdsong from the didjeridu, out of which emerges a soprano voice with harp accompaniment. The ecstatic text, sung in Latin, is by the 12th century Rhineland mystic Hildegard von Bingen: O most noble greenness, rooted in the sun, shining in dazzling serenity in a sphere that no earthly being can comprehend. You are encircled in the arms of divine mysteries. You blush like the dawn and burn like a flame of the sun.

3.       Bird and Flower Chants is divided into two parts: The Joy of Life - a ritualised response to the cheerful chatter of parrots and cockatoos, their names chanted in the Gadigal language - dissolves into A Dream of Wildflowers as the morning unfolds.

4.       Zenith. The strange stillness of solar noon, benign at first, rises to shrill intensity as maximum energy is released from the midday sun a scorching heat foreboding the impact of global warming on living organisms.

5.        Orison. A ruminative, sometimes unquiet cello yearns for a sublime realm beyond the fragmented temporal world.

6.       Canticle of the Earth, a celebration of the universal dance of life.


7.      O Magnum Mysterium. As darkness descends, Australia’s Astronomer-at-Large, Prof. Fred Watson, probes beyond rational and geopolitical in contemplation of the night sky. Is it possible, he wonders, that life is unique to our planet? Are we the only species capable of wondering what it all means?


COVID-19 restrictions meant that the scheduled performance in 2020 was cancelled. Happily, the premiere will now take place on Sunday 23 June 2024 at 3pm in Sydney’s City Recital Hall as the centrepiece of The Song Company’s 40th Anniversary Gala. The company, with whom I have had a long association, will be joined by Ensemble Offspring, augmented by Asia-Pacific instruments and directed by Roland Peelman.


Ross Edwards



  • Our Earth | Focus on...Climate Change
    • Our Earth | Focus on...Climate Change
    • Celebrate the environmental consciousness of Wise Music Group composers as we explore the meeting of art and activism in compositions which echo the urgent call of our planet.