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Thea Musgrave

Publisher: Novello & Co

The Voices of Our Ancestors (2014),
Work Notes
Commissioned by Jam and the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union (ERCU), with financial support from the Britten-Pears Foundation and the RVW Trust.
Novello & Co Ltd
Chorus and Orchestra/Ensemble
Year Composed
30 Minutes
Programme Note
Thea Musgrave The Voices of Our Ancestors (2014),
Through the ages man has pondered the question of our existence and, of course, there have been many answers to this question. One answer comes from the Rigveda which I had come across by complete chance. The written form of this poem dates from 1500-1200 BC but it almost certainly existed in oral form many centuries before this date, perhaps even as long ago as 8,000 years BC, and was passed down the generations in an oral tradition.

This poem spoke to me so vividly that I knew I had to find a way to set it to music. I then searched for other ancient poems that could accompany it: not only with poems about the eternal existential questions but also with poems expressing intimate human feelings of love, despair, loss, and enjoyment.

In the end I found eleven other poems in almost as many languages - Vedic, Sanskrit, Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, Chinese, Latin, Greek and Egyptian - though all translated into English! All of them date from ancient times. I feel they still speak vividly to us today.


Preview the score

  • 17 MAR 2016
    St Bride's Church, Fleet Street, London
    Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge; Onyx Brass; Simon Hogan, organ
    Stephanie Corley, soprano; Andrew Radley, countertenor; Annie Gill, mezzo-soprano; Ashley Catling, tenor; Omar Ebrahim, baritone; Michael Bawtree, conductor
  • 11 JUL 2015
    All Saints Church, Lydd, UK
    The Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge / Onyx Brass
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  • 09 JUL 2015
    St. Bride's Church, Fleet Street, London
    The Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge / Onyx Brass
    Simon Hogan; Nicholas Cleobury, conductor

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