Hymn to Hermes for soprano, clarinet, harp and double bass by Joseph Davies.

Commissioned by Tŷ Cerdd for The Hermes Experiment and first performed at St David's Hall, Cardiff on 13th February 2018 by Raphaela Papadakis (soprano), Oliver Pashley (clarinet), Anne Denholm (harp) and Marianne Schofield (double bass).

Programme Notes:

The text of this piece comes from the 'Orphic Hymns', a group of 87 ritual prayers to Greek and Middle Eastern deities probably written in the 3rd century AD in a community in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). This was a time when the traditional religious life of the Greek-speaking world which had flourished for centuries was being threatened by the spread of a mysterious cult from Judea which called itself 'The Way' (Christianity). Hermes (Mercury in the Latin world, the root of 'mercurial') is the messenger of the gods, a trickster who governs speech and trade and is therefore the patron of commerce, thieves and diplomats. He is especially important at times of change and transition in life, as his role as divine messenger makes him the revealer of potential and destiny. Each of the Orphic Hymns specifies an incense to be burned during recitation, in this case frankincense.

- Joseph Davies

Performance Notes:

  • The clarinet is written at sounding pitch in the score.
  • All harp harmonics sound an octave above written pitch.
  • The bottom string of the harp should be tuned to C#.
  • All arpeggiandi are to be played rapido, with the top note falling on the beat.
  • The bottom string of the double bass requires an extension and should be tuned to C#.
  • Frankincense may optionally be burned during performance.


Approximate Attic Greek pronunciation guide from Latin transliteration (examples as in English Received Pronunciation unless specified otherwise):

All consonants as in English except:

  • 'kh' = Bach (in German pronunciation)
  • 'r' always with an alveolar flap (flick of the tongue against the upper palate)

Vowels (accents in transliteration above indicate spoken stress only):

  • 'y' and 'u' = Glück (German pronunciation)
  • 'ou' = pool
  • 'æ' and 'e' = end
  • 'o' = storm
  • 'a' = arm
  • 'i' = spleen


  • 'ai' = time
  • 'oi' = soil
  • 'ei' = name

Duration: 5 minutes