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Commissioned by Chorale Connecticut (Meriden CT), Dorothy Barnhart, Music Director
The journals of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) document his sojourns by Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. With a scientific eye, Thoreau examines the tiny plants beneath his feet. But with a poetic heart, he writes with rapture of the magnificence of the natural world around him. Whether he speaks of the sunrise, the shimmering light upon the leaves or the bluebirds "warbling" in the distance, he sees and feels beyond the surface to a spiritual and transcendent existence to which he strives to give voice. The writings selected for To Love This Earth are among his most ecstatic, romantic and reverent passages.
This cantata is formed in three movements, each of which comprises several short sections (journal passages). The first movement, "Observing Nature," is generally descriptive of the natural world. Yet each section leads to a personal reaction to the places described. "I am at home in the world...I am ascending into the sun...I am a New Englander." As Thoreau claims his surroundings as his "native soil," the pride of belonging emerges.
The second movement is devoted to "The Creatures." The bluebirds warble, the fishes leap and the meadows sparkle with fireflies. But it is the cows, the well-behaved(!) cows, which capture his imagination. He finds them to be the most welcome of guests, for "They have not got to be entertained!"
Thoreau writes against greed, against laziness and against a world of "creature comforts" in "A Greater Life." Nature's bounty is there to be enjoyed, but not taken. "I am a reaper. I am not a gleaner. I breathe in the earth, but do not take." When one opens one's pores to Nature, one may "drink of each season as a cure." He exhorts his neighbors to "go out and join with Nature every day." Yes, even in the Winter!
There is a solitude and wildness to Nature. And yet, Thoreau finds companionship - spiritual companionship - when he is alone. "We walked together as one."
Thoreau values the courage to face the world in its true, rough form. He will endure the harshness and meanness of Nature, and will embrace all that life presents, in order to experience the reality of existence. Thus, in the closing section, "The Fullness of Life," he speaks forcefully and eloquently. "You must love the crust of the earth on which you dwell. You must love this earth... in its completeness. Else you will live in vain."
The musical setting is scored for SATB chorus with Baritone soloist, accompanied by String Quartet and Clarinet. The Baritone often presents the very personal and spiritual passages, such as "I am evaporating and ascending into the sun!" or (when reveling over the call of the bluebirds), "My life partakes of infinity." The chorus also portrays Thoreau, but in his slightly less intimate expressions. We learn of his observations of Nature, his love of cows, and his enthusiasm for venturing into the woods, "even on a Winter day!"
Notes by the composer