2001/02 HYMN TO RA for soloists, choir & orchestra

HYMN TO RA (2001/02) was written at the request of Musica Sacra, an annual festival in Maastricht, in conjunction with the Dutch Radio Broadcasting organization KRO.

For years I had been contemplating an Ode to the Sun. The Greenhouse effect and climate change have raised awareness of our dependence on the fragile relationship between sun and earth to the level of a major concern and reminded us of our responsibilities to preserve the planet as a habitable place. Not everyone seems to care in equal measure, witness the contempt of many politicians, industrialists and individuals whose greed, waste and corruption help to destroy this delicate balance with true disdain for the real powers that control our lives. It looks as though humanity will only start to wake up when calamities of catastrophic proportions give us the last warning and when it may already be too late.

In several ancient cultures the Sun was at the center of religious worship. Rulers identified with the Sun and rituals to gain favor from this awesome and primeval source of life, could assume extreme forms of sacrifice. Egyptian texts on the subject are a monument to this conscience, engraved in stone as they are. I didn’t get far in my efforts to obtain texts from other cultures, despite help from various specialists in the British Museum. Marcel Maree, from the Egyptian department, led me to the Great Hymn to the Aten by Akhenaten, the only pharaoh to impose monotheism onto his subjects and, in passing, to declare himself a direct descendant of the sun god Ra (the Aten).

Despite the cunning of his plan and his ruthless iconoclasm, he created a hymn of unusually broad vision of both the sun, life and humanity. I made it the central text of Hymn to Ra and since the inconclusive theories and conventions about the pronunciation of the hieroglyphic language confused me, I decided to convert an English translation into a hybrid text which gave me the freedom to create vocal resonances which I felt comfortable with and which I could also manipulate as the composition progressed.

The hymn was then put against a background of messages which reflect our present day knowledge of the sun: how big, how hot, what distances, which thermo-nuclear and electro-magnetic processes emanate from its nucleus far into the solar winds, how much energy the earth receives and in what form etc. Along the lines of Melville’s Moby Dick, which begins with a host of quotations that overwhelm the reader with the whale’s awesome reputation before the story can begin.

On top of that I inserted three invocations to the sun god Savitri (or Surya) which are still recited daily by the Hindu creed at sunrise. And finally, I used the invocations to the sun in Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra.

The first performance took place in November 2002 and was given by Capella Amsterdam, the soprano Ingrid Kappelle, the baritone Henk van Heijnsbergen and the Limburg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ed Spanjaard. A radio recording was made by KRO broadcasting organization.

Click on Lyrics to find the full text of the Hymn – the right-hand column is the actual text sung by the choir, the left-hand column contains the original data, the original English translation of the Hymn, and the translation of the Hindu prayer.