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Hymn to Gaia I

Homeric text
author of text

“Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from the outside, is available, a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.” (Sir Fred Hoyle, 1948)

‘The radical new idea that sees our planet as a single living organism was already forming in James Lovelock’s mind in the 1960s when he was working for NASA. It wasn’t until 1969, however, that it acquired its name—at the suggestion of the writer William Golding, Lovelock’s friend and neighbour in the village of Bowerchalke near Salisbury, where he was living at the time. “My reason for persisting in calling the Earth Gaia and saying that it is alive is not a personal foible; it is because I see this as an essential step in the process of public, as well as scientific, understanding. Until we all feel intuitively that the Earth is a living system, and know that we are part of it, we will fail to react automatically for its and ultimately our own protection.” (James Lovelock, The Vanishing Face of Gaia, 2009)

‘For the ancient Greeks, the Earth goddess Gaia was the origin of all. Her story has parallels with the creation myths of other cultures, but centres on the role of the mother rather than the father. Creator, nourisher, destroyer, she is the beginning and end of all living things. Over the centuries her influence was eclipsed as the patriarchal gods gained sway, but now we are learning again to pay heed to her old wisdom through the scientific theory and environmental movement which bear her name.

‘The first hymn is a setting of the Homeric Hymn to Gaia. The ancient Greek text is sung by the adult choir while the children sing a simultaneous translation in English. The melody sung by the children is adapted from the Bedhaya Pangkur, a sacred dance of the Central Javanese court gamelan tradition.

‘The second hymn is a setting of the Orphic Hymn to Gaia. In addition to the voices, the music makes use of a single instrument, the bass drum, played with a conventional beater, and on the rim with a birch. The children lead the adults in singing the ancient Greek text, and in a slightly slower central section they chant an English translation.

‘My thanks are due to Professor Paul Cartledge for his help with sources and general guidance and encouragement; to Helen Roche for her advice on the transliteration of the Greek; and to Professor James Diggle for providing a literal translation of the texts and for allowing me to record his inspirational declamation of them. Any deficiencies in the English versions are entirely my own; they are singing translations and in making them I have been influenced by the requirements of the music.’

Hymn to Gaia was commissioned by Ex Cathedra thanks to the generous support of David Heathfield and Alan Ingham.

from notes by Alec Roth © 2011


Roth: Shared Ground & other works
SIGCD270Download only


Track 4 on SIGCD270 CD1 [7'28] Download only

Track-specific metadata for SIGCD270 disc 1 track 4

Recording date
1 July 2011
Recording venue
Hawkesyard Priory, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Julian Millard
Hyperion usage
  1. Roth: Shared Ground & other works (SIGCD270)
    Disc 1 Track 4
    Release date: November 2011
    Download only
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