‘A reminder of what a sophisticated and multifaceted voice Anderson possesses… Everything is penetrated by an enchanting soundworld.’   Hufvudstadsbladet


4(III & IV = picc, III= fl. detuned 1/4 tone).3(III=ca).4(III = Ecl & cl in A detuned ¼-tone, IV=bcl).3(III=cbsn) - 4.3(I=flugelhorn, III=tpt detuned ¼-tone).3.1 - perc(4): I:tubular bells. II: vib/ bongos (2 pairs very high, high, medium, low), large chinese.cym, v large bamboo chimes.III: glsp/2 tgl(very small, small)/2 high wdbl/sleigh bells (med)/large tam-t.IV: marimba/crot/large BD - hp - pno(=cel) - keyboard (see note on score) - strings


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Programme Notes

Heaven is Shy of Earth was commissioned by the BBC Proms. This work sets texts in Latin and English from a variety of sources: parts of the High Mass in Latin, an extract from Psalm 84 in Latin, and a poem of Emily Dickinson. Despite the predominance of Latin religious texts, this is not a sacred work. It is not a Mass setting, but uses its range of texts (including part of the mass) to celebrate the beauties of the natural world. In this sense it is in the tradition of such ‘secular’ masses as Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass or Martinu’s Field Mass. Or as John Cage remarked of his Roaratorio, “it’s not in the church, it’s out there in the world… or rather the world has become a church.” The idea of nature as sacrosanct is put slightly differently by Emily Dickinson in the poem set in tonight’s work: Blue is blue – the world through – Amber – amber, dew – dew Seek, friend, and see – Heaven is shy of Earth… I was much struck by the force and elation of the final line. To say that the beauties of the earth are such that heaven would be ashamed of itself by comparison may strike some as rash (understandably, when one thinks of the average days’ news). But, then again, perhaps that is the point: the strong instinct for celebration is one way of transcending the chaos. Each movement of the work has somewhat different scoring and texture, following the needs of the texts. The orchestration features the usual orchestral line-up, although the first trumpet often plays flugelhorn (as in the opening movement) and the orchestra is similarly various. Through both of these bodies the mezzo-soprano provides her own melodic, generally lyrical commentary, also having a movement entirely to herself (the setting of Psalm 84). Two features run through much of the work: first, when the vocal writing is clear and simple, the orchestral writing is often more complex, and vice-versa: in other words, the voice and instruments complement each other (although there are exceptions to this). The other factor is a small group of instruments in the orchestra – a flute, a clarinet, a trumpet, an electronic keyboard – which are tuned down a quarter-tone. They provide a special harmonic colour at certain points, using non-tempered intervals derived from the natural overtone series – another way, perhaps, of bringing nature into the concert hall. Rather than provide a movement-by-movement commentary, perhaps it would be best to emphasise the interrelationships of the texts. Emily Dickinson’s ‘heaven is shy of earth’ has its parallel in the psalmists’ “the sparrow hath found her a nest, where she may lay her young – even thine altars, O Lord” – another way of indicating nature as sacred. And the setting of the title line is immediately followed by the word ‘Sanctus’ repeated many times, which makes the same point. Heaven is Shy of Earth is dedicated to Ian and Laetitia Frost.

Julian Anderson


'A startlingly effective piece, with the ringing chords, references to birds and outside sounds, and the sacred texts almost seeming to invoke Messiaen. The choral writing is distinctly Andersonian and the solos for mezzo soprano Susan Bickley seem to pre-echo parts of his opera Thebans. A solo flugelhorn and the special tunings for some instruments are very effective touches...'
BBC Radio 3 Record Review (Andrew McGregor), 1 December 2018


‘A reminder of what a sophisticated and multifaceted voice Anderson possesses… Heaven Is Shy of Earth opens itself in a variety of expressive directions, yet never sounds like something we've heard before. Everything is penetrated by an enchanting soundworld and a living rhythm.’
Hufvudstadsbladet (Mats Liljeroos), 13 November 2018


‘A substantial work of intriguing paradoxes. Its opening flugelhorn melody evokes Copland’s spacious landscapes, yet the delicately stretched orchestral tunings place this music in the 21st century. It sets words of the mass but its point of departure, poems by Emily Dickinson, makes this more a celebration of natural creation.  Gloriously uplifting and luminescent, it has dark threads and exudes both a striking simplicity and a numinous complexity. In this searingly beautiful performance , Bickley soars magnificently while the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus are on top form, from the fizzing and chattering textures of ‘Gloria (with Bird)’ to the chorus’s sublimely sustained final chord…’
BBC Music Magazine (Christopher Dingle), Christmas 2018


‘[In Heaven is Shy of Earth the] Latin Mass sits beside Dickinson verse and the compound shines out in an Andersonian way, comprehending both Britten and Tippett.’
The Sunday Times (Paul Driver), 4 November 2018


‘[In Heaven is Shy of Earth] an orchestral introduction sets the stage for what might have been called an ‘Epithalamium’ or wedding song, built around and expansive melody written for the couple to whom the whole work is dedicated. That joyous spirit permeates the remarkable equilibrium of Anderson’s response to God-centred choral liturgy – as vivid here as in his Bell Mass – as well as to Dickinson’s fervent hymings, in a sequence of more earthbound but arresting aphorisms…’
Gramophone (Arnold Whittall), December 2018

Heaven is Shy of Earth

Afternoon Concert

BBC Radio 3 (United Kingdom)

Susan Bickley, BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Oliver Knussen

Heaven is Shy of Earth

Barbican Theatre (London, United Kingdom)

BBC Symphony Orchestra, Oliver Knussen, Susan Bickley

Heaven is Shy of Earth

BBC Radio 3 (United Kingdom)

Sir Andrew Davis, BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus

Heaven is Shy of Earth

ABC Classic FM (Australia)

BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, Sir Andrew Davis

Heaven is Shy of Earth

Royal Albert Hall (London, United Kingdom)

BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis