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Tarik O'Regan

Publisher: Novello & Co

The Ecstasies Above (2006)
Commissioned from the Robert Baker Commissioning Fund for Sacred Music by Yale Institute of Sacred Music for Yale Schola Cantorum, Simon Carrington, Conductor
Text Writer
Edgar Allan Poe
Novello & Co Ltd
Chorus and Orchestra/Ensemble
Year Composed
18 Minutes
2 Altos, 2 Basses, 2 Sopranos, 2 Tenors
Alternate Orchestration
SATB; SSAATTBB; 14vn.12vn.10va.8vc.6db
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Programme Note
Tarik O'Regan The Ecstasies Above (2006)
The Ecstasies Above takes for its title a phrase found in the lyric poem, Israfel, by Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849) which was first published in 1831 in The Southern Messenger. The poem is set in entirety with the exception of one stanza.

Through his creative description of the angel, Israfel, and the heavens, Poe creates a virtuous image of the supernatural. Poe compares this heavenly vision to the harsh reality of human existence. Whilst the beauty of Israfel's voice and lyre can silence even the moon and the stars in the heavens, Poe suggests that if Israfel were placed in an earthly environment, he would not sing with such zest. From the Koranic source of the name for the protagonist, the story is refashioned by Poe into an homage of ecumenicity to an all-encompassing angel of music.

Musically the score makes much use of textural variation between the three groups (full chorus, solo octet and string quartet). The tug of war between material that is almost childlike in its playfulness and sections that seem more sombre reflect my own thoughts on Poe’s œuvre. As a European transplanted to North America, I am intrigued in the seeming disparity between the quasi-adulation of Poe's poetry in Europe and the much cooler reaction he has always encountered in his native environs.

I wrote The Ecstasies Above at Yaddo, a mansion now used as an artists’ retreat in Saratoga Springs, New York. Before Yaddo took its present form, it was an area of land first settled in the late 18th century by Jacobus Barhyte, a soldier in the American Revolution. Visitors to Barhyte's estate included John Quincy Adams and Martin Van Buren, Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper and, most importantly in the context my work, Edgar Allan Poe. He visited in the early 1840s where he scripted part of an early version of his most famous poem, The Raven.

The Ecstasies Above was commissioned from the Robert Baker Commissioning Fund for Sacred Music by Yale Institute of Sacred Music for Yale Schola Cantorum, Simon Carrington, Conductor.

Tarik O’Regan
New York, February 2007

Preview the score

  • Ensemble
    Craig Hella Johnson
    Harmonia Mundi USA:
It does not so much set the text in an audible way as it creates sonic images inspired by it. ... The sonorities are exquisite.
Bill Gudger, The Post and Courier,31/05/2012
Tarik O'Regan is an up-and-coming young British choral composer known for the remarkable appeal of his music, which combines the best of sacred music traditions both old and new. one of the most remarkable among his fairly recent works is The Ecstasies Above, a gorgeous and often thrilling piece for string quartet, eight vocal soloists divided into two quartets, and choir. Setting Edgar Allen Poe's poem, Israfel, the text recounts the heavenly activity of the title angel, "... whose heartstrings are a lute." The piece alternates between more solemn, yet lovely sentiment and an almost childlike sense of giddy excitement.
Lindsay Koob, Charleston City Paper,31/05/2012
You’ll think of Riverdance in The Ecstasies Above, Tarik O’Regan’s flavorful and riveting setting of Poe’s poem about Israfel “whose heart strings are a lute.” Rhythmic and dramatic, O’Regan’s work features a robust string quartet and solo octet.
Magnum Chorum, Magnum Chorum Website,01/11/2011
What most gripped the ear, however, was a newish piece: Tarik O’Regan’s The Ecstasies Above. Just turned 30, O’Regan is starting to make an impact with music that is striking and approachable without being obvious or second-hand. True, there were audible influences here: Copland in the dancing folkiness of the string writing; the Charles Ives of The Unanswered Question in the mystical mystery of some ethereal harmonies (how fitting that the Ives had preceded this piece); and hints of Adams and Nyman about the minimalist touches. But the treatment of Edgar Allan Poe’s Israfel had an originality that transcended these echoes. Poe’s marvellous poem depicts the lyre-strumming angel Israfel, and then, in a typically wry twist, suggests that if Israfel had to cope with Poe’s earthly life, his music might not be half so serene! O’Regan uses three contrasting ensembles to convey this: a larger chorus that sings gently contoured lines or holds long notes; a solo octet (the admirable young Purcell Singers) who sometimes have to ascend to stratospheric yet delicate heights; and a string quartet (the Brodsky; purposeful and superbly prepared) that skips through madrigalian counterpoints or ruminates in shimmering clusters. The end is sublime: two solo sopranos, on high A and F, perfectly tuned over an F major chord. But this was one contemporary piece that you didn’t want to finish.
Richard Morrison, The Times (London),11/05/2009
With a solo octet and chorus desolately calling out across the theatre – higher planes speaking to Earth from distant realms – weaving around an energised string quartet at the heart of the stage, [The Ecstasies Above] was an absolute pleasure to experience.
Talitha Bromwich, The Argus (Brighton, UK),09/05/2009
...the ensemble swept us up into the firmament to hear the glories of "the starry choir".
Robert Faires, Austin Chronicle,05/10/2007
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