The poetry of Edward Thomas (1878–1917) is imbued with a deep love of the countryside, and a care for the natural world anticipating modern environmental concerns. It has inspired Rhian Samuel to create a four-movement choral cycle Earth Newborn. The work was commissioned by the BBC Singers, regular champions of her music, and premiered at St Paul’s Knightsbridge on 28 April, conducted by Nicholas Kok.
Themes of daybreak and sleep link the first two songs. In The Trumpet, ringing G major arpeggios welcome the dawn as ‘earth newborn’. Then, on the borders of sleep, there is Lights Out, among Thomas’s most famous poems and one much favoured by generations of British composers, to which Samuel brings fresh currents of imagination. Nature up close and in detail is the focus of the cycle’s second half. In the third song, Bright Clouds of May, delicate melismata evoke drifts of blossom, and with the lightest of touches. Raindrops hanging like ‘uncountable crystals both dark and bright’ in After Rain sum up the manifold beauties of the earth, expressed in a hymn-like C major, perhaps the most ravishing music of the cycle.
Any of these four songs can stand effectively alone as concert items. The first two of them are well within the range of gifted amateur choirs and, though more challenging, the third and fourth allow them to enjoy the stimulus of wide-ranging technical and interpretative possibilities. And with a Welsh heritage in common to both poet and composer, Earth Newborn offers a wealth of programming opportunities, not least in 2024, marking the year of the composer’s eightieth birthday.