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author of text
Psalm 7 (8): 4, 6; Job 28: 9-12; Isaiah 40: 26, 12, 22, 23, 15; Psalm 48 (49): 1-3; Proverbs 3: 19-23; 13-18

‘Being a great admirer of Ex Cathedra, it was both a joy and an honour when Jeffrey Skidmore asked me to compose a new work for their 40th year. Casting around for a subject, I noticed that 2009 was also the 40th anniversary of the Moon landings, and of the famous picture of the Earth rising above the surface of the Moon. The Apollo 8 crew who brought back the Earthrise picture and later astronauts were awed and profoundly moved by the vision of their home planet:

“It was the most beautiful, heart-catching sight of my life, one that sent a torrent of nostalgia, of sheer homesickness surging through me…raging nationalistic interests, famines, wars, pestilence don’t show from that distance.” (Frank Borman, Apollo 8);
“It was the most beautiful thing there was to see in all the heavens. People down here don’t realize what they have.” (James Lovell, Apollo 8);
“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth.” (Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11).

‘Reading these and other descriptions brought to mind the prophet Isaiah’s evocation of a God’s-eye view of the Earth. I have used these verses in the text for Earthrise, along with other suitably visionary selections from the Old Testament. The words have a grandness and solemnity which seem appropriate to the subject.

‘If that great prophet of our own day, James Lovelock is to be believed, man’s hubristic claim to dominion over the Earth has led us to the brink of environmental catastrophe. He insists (The Revenge of Gaia) that if we are to come to a true appreciation of the damage we are doing, then appealing to reason is not enough. We must develop an emotional connection to the Earth by harnessing the power of metaphor and myth, ancient wisdom and sacred texts, for “they serve to ignite an intuitive understanding of God and creation that cannot be falsified by rational argument.” In Homage to Gaia, as throughout his writings, Lovelock pays tribute to the importance of the Earthrise image: “Can there have been any more inspiring vision this century than that of the Earth from space? We saw for the first time what a gem of a planet we live on. The astronauts who saw the whole earth from Apollo 8 gave us an icon.”

Earthrise is a meditation on this icon and falls into three sections:

Part I – Man’s drive to explore and exploit
Part II – Contemplation of the Earth seen from space
Part III – A plea for true wisdom and understanding

‘The text is set in the Latin of the Vulgate, and the whole is topped and tailed by two of the Great Advent Antiphons. The music is scored for unaccompanied choir in 40 parts and its layout is modelled on that of Thomas Tallis’ Spem in alium, dividing the 40 parts into eight choirs each of five parts: soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass.’

Earthrise was commissioned by Ex Cathedra with funds provided by the PRS Foundation. The first performance was given by Ex Cathedra, directed by Jeffrey Skidmore at the Town Hall, Birmingham, 31 January, 2010.

from notes by Alec Roth © 2011


Roth: Shared Ground & other works
SIGCD270Download only


Part 1: Man's drive to explore and exploit  Quid est homo quod memor es eius?
Track 1 on SIGCD270 CD1 [7'36] Download only
Part 2: Contemplation of the earth seen from space  Levate in excelsum oculos vestros et videte
Track 2 on SIGCD270 CD1 [5'47] Download only
Part 3: A plea for true wisdom and understanding  Audite haec, omnes gentes
Track 3 on SIGCD270 CD1 [11'28] Download only

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