Duration: 4'45" |
Ensemble: SATB unaccompanied
Earth Grown Old is an Advent piece based on words by Christina Rossetti, and is set for unaccompanied SATB with a short section for double choir (or optional semi-chorus). It focuses on the thoughtful and penitential, although there are powerful emotional outbursts in the middle, with rich chromaticism and fighting dissonances (frequently clashing and resolving) being the focal point of an otherwise diatonic piece with softer, more charming clashes. The piece gives us a chance to stop and evaluate our own lives as we wait for Christmas to arrive, all whilst being aware that the Earth (grown old) has been waiting for much longer than we have, with "millions more lie[ing] hid between inner swathings of her fold".
Earth Grown Old has four different sections, the first characterising our busy lives, the hustle and bustle of everyday life, with a simple, almost monotonous, repeated harmonic sequence, with simple harmony and parts bouncing off each other.
The second section starts to introduce a mood of being frantic, emulating that we are "quickly told" by many people that so many others have been in the same situation we are in. Here we see much more chromatic, almost chord-cluster like lines, before firing into a vivace section where "we who live are quickly told" is repeated over and over again, creating the frantic mood.
The third section is the focal point of this piece, perhaps symbolising that we cannot wait anymore or we cannot continue with the monotony of everyday life and need a change in our lives. This passionate section splits into double choir (or SATB with semi-chorus) and not only plays with fighting dissonances (eg. a prolonged E major chord frequently trying to be pulled up by several F major chords in the first choir) but at its climax, starting with a unison line "burst[ing] through her mould" with the sopranos on a top A# accompanied with brief (but simultaneous) D minor and D# minor chords underneath before resolving to a wonderful 9-8 suspension in B minor.
The final section, the recapitulation, reminds us that throughout everything the Earth is there under us, with its "keen cold", still waiting.
Earth grown old, yet still so green,
Deep beneath her crust of cold
Nurses fire unfelt, unseen:
Earth grown old.
We who live are quickly told:
Millions more lie hid between
Inner swathings of her fold.
When will fire break up her screen?
When will life burst through her mould?
Earth, earth, earth, thy cold is keen,
Earth grown old.