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Augusta Read Thomas

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Resounding Earth (2012)
G Schirmer Inc
Works for 2-6 Players
Sub Category
Percussion Ensemble
Year Composed
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Programme Note
Augusta Read Thomas Resounding Earth (2012)
(Homage to Olivier Messiaen and Igor Stravinsky)

(Homage to Luciano Berio and Pierre Boulez)

(Homage to Lou Harrison and György Ligeti)

(Homage to Edgard Varèse, Harry Partch and John Cage)

Everything that we are made of, everything that we know and love, is made from the stars.

We (like all metals) are stardust. Metals are exceptionally resonant sound sources, rich with vibrational possibilities. As such, artisans across time and earth have been inspired to sculpt metals into musical instruments. More than five hundred pieces of metal are incorporated into the instrumentation of Resounding (re-sounding) Earth.

Resounding Earth can be heard and imagined as a United-Nations-of-Resonances.

Scored for four percussionists playing bells from a wide variety of cultures and historical periods, the project is conceived as a cultural statement celebrating interdependence and commonality across all cultures; and as a musical statement celebrating the extraordinary beauty and diversity of expression inherent in bell sounds.

Probing into bells' rich meanings and characteristics as carriers of history, ethnicity, societal and cultural connotations is a joy and wonder. Bells can be used to celebrate grand occasions, hold sacrificial rites, keep a record of events, give the correct time, celebrate births and weddings, mark funerals, caution a community, enhance any number of religious ceremonies, and are even hung around the necks of animals. As carriers of history and culture, bells, of numerous shapes, sizes, types, decorative patterns, weights, functions, and cultural connotations, enrapture and inspire.

Bells are central to Augusta's music; bells permeate her music. For over 25 years, in every work for orchestra, and in many for smaller ensembles, she has been composing music frequently using percussion consisting of bell sounds (pitched metal percussion and all the mallet percussion instruments) many of which have their origins in other than Western musical cultures. As such, her new piece is an extreme extension of work she has been doing for decades.

Augusta said:

"I treasure the opportunity to collaborate with the musicians in Third Coast Percussion because they are world-class virtuosi, visionary artists, and collegial, spectacular teammates. Involving a large battery of unique, ancient bells from around the world, our composition thus requires countless hours of refining nuances, colors, mallet choices, bell placements, and honing any number of other shadings, tunings, and gradations of the sound complexes. The musicians in Third Coast Percussion are ardent collaborators."
Resounding Earth is dedicated with admiration and gratitude to Third Coast Percussion.

— Augusta Read Thomas

See for further information about Resounding Earth.

“The National Gallery of Art’s two-week American Music Festival — one of the most adventurous and exciting celebrations of contemporary music here in years — closed on Sunday with a performance by the Third Coast Percussion ensemble that proved just how vital and fertile new American music really is...The evening opened with “Resounding Earth,” an ambitious new work by Augusta Read Thomas. Played on an array of 300 bells, gongs and other instruments, it’s an overtly spiritual work whose movements are titled “Invocation” and “Mantra” and the like. But there’s nothing New Age-y about this music, no numbing yoga-music serenity. “Earth” burst irrepressibly and even joyously with life, dancing from the shimmering of Burmese temple gongs to brutal, almost shrapnel-like explosions of sound, in a sort of elemental and altogether rapturous song of the earth.”
Stephen Brookes, The Washington Post,23/03/2015
Another outgrowth of Third Coast's residency at Notre Dame is the percussion piece Resounding Earth by Augusta Read Thomas, a former Chicago Symphony Orchestra resident composer who now serves as a University Professor at the U. of C. Thomas worked closely with Skidmore and his fellow musicians as they collected more than 125 bells from around the world to create the work's sound-world. They then spent countless hours refining nuances, tunings, even the onstage placement of the vast battery of bells and gongs. Skidmore estimates Third Coast has performed the piece some 17 times across the country since premiering it at Notre Dame in September 2012. The performance I caught last week at the U. of C. concluded the group's February residency there. The four sections of Resounding Earth celebrate, in the composer's words, "commonality across all cultures," along with "the extraordinary beauty and diversity of expression" of instruments – including Burmese spinning bells, Indian Noah bells, Thai gongs and Japanese singing bowls, or rin. There's a ritualistic quality to Thomas' tintinnabulations, each percussionist assuming by turns a kind of hieratic function. Bell sounds at once ancient and modern – bright, dark, shimmering, shattering, rhythmic, lyric – combine to create a wondrous, otherworldly carillon. I found the delicate cosmic song of the Japanese rin in the "Prayer" section absolutely haunting. The Third Coast players made a terrific case for Resounding Earth along with other percussion works by John Cage and Guo Wenjing. Their recording of Resounding Earth, containing spot-on audio and video performances, is available on New Focus Recordings. And Nimbus Alliance has just released a CD of Thomas' orchestral and chamber ensemble works, taken from concert performances by the CSO and MusicNOW ensembles under Pierre Boulez, Cliff Colnot and others. Further good news: The label has two more discs of Thomas' music in the pipeline.
John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune,24/02/2014
It must have been heartening for contemporary music aficionados to see a nearly full house for Third Coast Percussion at the Logan Center in Hyde Park Friday. A major draw at the University of Chicago Presents event was the highly anticipated local premiere of Augusta Read Thomas’ Resounding Earth, written for the quartet in 2012 and already the focus of a highly acclaimed recording. The back story of the piece makes for a program annotator’s dream. Since the bells at the heart of the music have been a conceptual focus of much of Thomas’ oeuvre, this ambitiously proportioned four-movement work could be viewed as a significant touchstone in her illustrious quarter-century career. A true composer/performer collaboration, it draws on the astonishing range of over 200 bells collected by the ensemble from around the globe, and over 300 pieces of metal in total. For all of the sonic sourcing from Asian locales, each of the four movements is also an homage to giants of Western composition. Even by modern multicultural standards, the accumulation of sound and ritual is truly encyclopedic. This is a lot of baggage to carry, but Thomas pulls it off triumphantly. The clear, semi-dry acoustics of Logan Center were a perfect fit for the strike-and-decay sonic profile, and the players threw themselves into their realization with obvious affection for both the composer and the centuries of musical traditions that shaped each instrument. While the work reflects Thomas’ reverence for these cultural symbols, she shows no reticence in coaxing novel timbres from the vast array. A lesser composer might have drowned under the stress of such a profusion of sonic possibilities, but Thomas neatly matched each rhythmic gesture to an appropriate sound and dynamic. The opening movement (“Invocation – Pulse Radiance”) is an homage to Stravinsky and Messiaen, and a compelling fusion of the former’s primal rhythmic thrust with the later’s celebrations of glistening iridescence. The flickering resonances of Burmese spinning gongs announced the opening of “Mantra – Ceremonial Time Shapes”, inspired by Lou Harrison and György Ligeti. The sound world conjured in “Reverie-Crystal Lattice” was the most forceful and comprehensive of the four movements, and a final solitary strike on four chimes from the stage front made for an ingenious and compelling conclusion. The most memorable movement was in some respects also the simplest: “Prayer – Star Dust Orbits”, an homage to Luciano Berio and Pierre Boulez. The featured instruments were temple bowls, mostly struck but also slowly rubbed along their circumference to produce an utterly beguiling metallic song. The periodic accumulation of sustained clouds of dissonance made for one of the most powerful new music experiences I’ve felt in years.
Michael Cameron, Chicago Classical Review,22/02/2014
In Resounding Earth, composed by Augusta Read Thomas for the Chicago quartet Third Coast Percussion, a constellation of singing, ringing and chiming bells, gongs and other metallic implements, representing cultures and traditions from around the world, serves to honor nine venerated 20th-century composers. Bliss out to Ms. Thomas’s transfixing shimmer on the immaculately recorded CD, and marvel at the ensemble performing the intricate work on the accompanying DVD.
Steve Smith, The New York Times,27/11/2013
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