Prayers for a Feverish Planet

Forgive Them Not, For They Know What They Do (2020) – Karen Lemon (Australia)

A lamentation on inaction against human-induced climate change

The motivation for this piece needs no more explanation than the title and subtitle provide. The title is a modified paraphrase of words attributed to Jesus Christ on his condemnation and crucifixion as appear in the Bible Gospel According to Luke, Chapter 23 (his words indicating a soul much more forgiving than my own). Similarly, the titles of the piece’s three sections –

“… they do these things when the tree is green …”

“… what will they do when it is dry?”

and “Weep for yourselves and for your children”

– are words attributed by Luke to Jesus, though here they are given a different focus. 

Our climate situation is dire. We can each of us act to make a small improvement, but the necessary great improvement, and lasting change for the good, can only be achieved if we all of us act. 

What prompted me to participate in this project?  Two things.  Firstly, like so many people, I am aghast at how our beautiful, beautiful planet is being trashed and how we are making life hell for other species (every time I see images of polar bears, I cry), for some to the point of there being life no longer. 

What can I do about this?  Well, I can “act locally”, as one says, living in as sustainable way as I can afford within our 21st century urban culture, but I can also make a modest contribution through my art.  I commend Ann for conceiving this project and giving us the opportunity to do that. 

And secondly, and, sorry, quite outside the parameters of the project, for me it was a purely musical challenge, because, other than text settings, I had never composed a piece that was “about” anything or “inspired by” anything. 

But having said all this, I confess that I am a pessimist on the climate change issue, something to which the entropic trajectory of my piece attests.  I fear that there are just too many selfish and/or lazy people in the developed world, and too many impoverished people in the developing world, for us to stage a successful fight against this human-induced scourge. 

Still, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, and projects like Ann’s are but one possible road.  Although I fear that we will inevitably fail, there is the small comfort that at least music is something that climate catastrophe can’t take away from us.

Ann adds: This piece captivated me from the first second I listened to it: the opening shimmering and hypnotic trance-like texture devolves into chaos, and finally a mournful, haunting hymn at the end. It’s brilliantly composed with the intervallic relationships and motivic coherence throughout.

Karen Lemon

Karen Lemon is an Australian composer and musicologist.  She holds a Bachelor of Music Education (with merit) with a Major in piano (having studied with Albert Landa and Adene McInnes) and Minor in composition (having studied with a number of prominent Australasian composers, including Anne Boyd and Gillian Whitehead) from the NSW State Conservatorium of Music as well as a Bachelor of Music (First Class Honours) in Musicology from the University of Sydney.  Her PhD in Musicology, on Schoenberg’s post-tonal music c.1910, was also awarded by the University of Sydney.  Studies in Dalcroze Eurhythmics took Karen abroad – her Certificate in Dalcroze Eurhythmics from NSW State Conservatorium of Music was undertaken with supplementary examination at the Institut Jaques-Dalcroze in Geneva, Switzerland, and from Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA she gained both the Certificate and License in Dalcroze Eurhythmics.

As a performer, Karen was active in Sydney as a chorister and vocalist, most notably as a foundation and lifetime member of the new music choir The Contemporary Singers and as founder and director of and arranger for the pop-jazz a cappella ensemble The Five Skins.

Despite studies in composition in her undergraduate days, it has only been in recent years that Karen has returned to it.  She has been privileged to have had her music performed in locations as diverse as Sydney, Los Angeles, New York and Cambridge, and by such distinguished performers as Thomas Hutchinson, Artur Cimirro and Gwion Thomas.  Karen has composed music by commission or on request for CAMS, Hourglass Ensemble and the University of Bristol Schola Cantorum, and several of her works have been prizewinners in composition competitions, including Gesualdo Six, Renée B. Fisher and Opus Dissonus.

Karen has worked as a lecturer in Musicology at the Conservatoriums of the University of Sydney and the University of Tasmania, and is an Associate Represented Artist with the Australian Music Centre.  She currently divides her time between Australia and France.