Prayers for a Feverish Planet – Program Notes III.

Vanessa Cornett • Michael Culver • R. Michael Daughterty • Wendy Davis • Daniel de Togni

Vanessa Cornett, United States                                  

Our World So Freely Given (2020)

Our World So Freely Given is based on the nineteenth-century English hymn, “For the Beauty of the Earth.” Although the original melody is preserved, the harmonies and voice leading feel not quite right: twisted, troubled, perhaps feverish at times, but with sonorities that are not altogether displeasing. As the harmony becomes even more dissonant, the bassline of the hymn gradually detaches itself from the melody, transforming into the ancient dies irae chant which originally referenced the day the world “dissolves into ashes.” Yet, the melody remains steadfast. This paraphrase offers the opportunity to express gratitude for something that, despite being tarnished, is still beautiful in its own way as it struggles to survive against all odds.

Ann adds: There are a handful of pieces in the collection that use “For the Beauty of the Earth.” I love the harmonies Vanessa uses, how they progress, the dies irae subtly woven into the bass line.

Michael Culver, United States                                   

Piano Sonata (2020)

                             I. Prologue to the Future

                             III. Aftermath

I. Prologue to the Future – The sonata opens as a prologue to a dark future. Themes of “the machines” to come, and eventual destruction of the planet are hinted at as a warning. The movement is meant as a form of pastorale, evoking images of nature and a calm before a storm. 

III. Aftermath -The remnants of the planet that humans have left behind is a melancholy landscape. Because of climate change, Earth is no longer habitable to humans, and because of this, nature is able to slowly begin rebuilding itself. This movement is meant to evoke the damage that we can do to the planet, but most importantly to ourselves, because once we are no longer able to live on this planet, Earth will heal and move on without us.

Ann adds: For now, I’m learning the outer movements of the sonata.

R. Michael Daugherty, United States                             

Mindfulness in the Midst of It (2020)

Mindfulness (heartfulness) is an awareness of everything around us — good, bad, or indifferent. Full awareness in the present moment must include rising global temperatures seen in melting sea ice, shrinking glaciers, and warming permafrost. It also must include the global coronavirus pandemic. The latter, in addition to killing thousands, has led to travel restrictions that are reducing our carbon footprint and restoring water quality in places like Venice, Italy. It is very odd in this moment to realize how much we influence the environment and that we can have a positive effect in reducing global warming if we act together and act now. 

That realization sheds some hope that we can still save our feverish planet. It is what we pray for.

Ann adds: Bringing mindfulness to all of our actions and their impact on the planet is essential as we tackle climate issues.

Wendy Davis, United States                                       

Meditation for Earth and Sky (2020)

Meditation for Earth and Sky builds on a modal variation of the first line of a common American hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, heard in the first four measures. The hymn’s text begins, “For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies,” and was written by the English poet Folliott S. Pierpoint and published in 1864. While this text has been set to many tunes, the melody drawn from for this piece is the first line of the hymn tune Dix by the German composer Conrad Kocher. Kocher’s tune was published in 1838 and was set to Pierpoint’s text as early as 1884. Different treatments of the melody occur throughout the piece, with one precise quotation of it near its middle. Perhaps for listeners familiar with the hymn, these repetitions hearken its opening words during this short offering for the wellness of our planet.

Ann adds: Listen across all of the iterations of For the Beauty of the Earth to see how different composers utilized the existing hymn to create new works.

Daniel De Togni, United States                                  

Garden of Light (2018)

Garden of light was inspired by Japanese gardens and finding stillness and peace in an otherwise chaotic world. It aims to emulate the beauty of sitting in a beautiful garden in Kyoto, Japan, alone in the music of the trees and one’s own mind.

Ann adds: Well, Japan as a theme isn’t explicitly related to climate change, but there were several pieces submitted that have Japanese ties. I choose this work because of the qualities of stillness and peace, and the ephemeral nature of gardens—one of the reasons gardens are so beautiful is because we know they will change, the seasons continue apace, nothing stays the same, and there is a cycle of birth and of death.