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Programme Notes

This is the most extended of the Four American choruses, as well as the most complex. Inspired by the text, I imagined a group of choruses singing hymns simultaneously in different mountains across a valley (this is also an Ivesian idea). In Beautiful Valley of Eden, the chorus is split up into four groups, each singing at their own speed. In order to aid both singers and listeners in hearing the different speeds going on at once, the four sub-choruses correspond to the four standard voice parts of a chorus: the top group are sopranos, the second the altos, the tenors in the middle, and the basses in the lowest register – each under their own sub-conductor. They are never synchronised – save for the very last bar. Each part on its own is fairly easy to sing; however, their combination produces much more surprising harmonies. A system of cues between the chorus sections ensures the whole thing runs in order from beginning to end. The challenge here was two-fold: 1) to set the same text, line by line, in four completely different ways; 2) to ensure that no matter what happens the four parts always make harmonic sense against each other – despite the fact that they are never singing at the same speed. The end result is intended not to convey complexity, but a sense of joyous collective celebration. Beautiful Valley of Eden probably lasts about 7 minutes – the duration is hard to estimate as all the speeds given are very approximate.

Beautiful Valley of Eden

Record Review - Fantasia IV

BBC Radio 3 (United Kingdom)

London Sinfonietta, Oliver Knussen, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo, CBSO Chorus, Simon Halsey, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski

Beautiful Valley of Eden

Gonville and Caius College (Cambridge, United Kingdom)

Choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, Geoffrey Webber

Beautiful Valley of Eden

No Venue (Copenhagen, Denmark)

Ars Nova Copenhagen, Simon Halsey

Beautiful Valley of Eden

St Alban the Martyr Church, Holborn (London, United Kingdom)

BBC Symphony Chorus, Stephen Jackson

Beautiful Valley of Eden

No Venue (Hong Kong, China)

CBSO Chorus, Simon Halsey