This recording and film were made possible by the generous support of donors to Terra Nostra. We thank you all- look for your name in the credits!
Terra Nostra (“Our Earth” in Latin) was commissioned in 2013 by Susan and Jeff Lubetkin, who specified that it should be about climate change. The original version of the score was completed by Christophe Chagnard in April 2015 and performed by the Lake Union Civic Orchestra in June of that year. A revised version of the score was recorded by Seattle Music at Bastyr University in January 2019 and made into a film by Hullabaloo Creative.
Terra Nostra is 30 minutes long and filled with themes and quotes that express precise images, phenomena, and direct references. Its architecture is based on a timeline spanning from before the Big Bang, through present time, and on to an unknown future. The overall form unfolds as follows:
- Pre-Big Bang is followed by a gradual buildup using the harmonic series and the Fibonacci proportions, Big Bang (brass), the beginning of Earth, time (bass drum, timpani pulse), light (high harmonic in violins), water (vibraphone, harp), flora (clarinets, violins), fauna (bird calls in woodwinds), the inexorability theme (cellos, bassoons, bass clarinet; this is an important melody that will return, each time altered throughout the piece), oceans (cellos, violas, bassoons, brass), humankind beginning with SHE (oboe solo) followed by HE (cello solo with the same notes as SHE but in a different rhythm), followed by the rise of civilization.
- The next section uses musical quotes to travel through time. It begins with the oldest piece of notated music ever discovered: the Hurrian Hymn No. 6 (from Syria circa 1400 B.C.) in solo harp. This is followed by excerpts from Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474), J. S. Bach (1685-1750), W. A. Mozart (1756-1791), Beethoven (1770-1827), Wagner (1813-1883), Debussy (1862-1918), and Stravinsky (1882-1971).
- The Industrial Revolution begins with the humankind theme and merges into a section depicting mass production. The piccolo introduces the population growth theme, which is based on an Indian melody, as India is poised to become the world’s most populous country by the end of the 21st century. However, as each person in the United States uses, on average, ten times as much energy as each person in India (source), we must start with ourselves as part of the challenge and the solution.
- One of the bird calls returns but is slightly altered, foreshadowing the challenges ahead. The ocean theme comes back in full force, describing rising seas. The water theme returns, but on a xylophone instead of a vibraphone, symbolizing drought, and followed by wildfires. A sorrowful bassoon solo expresses the aftermath of fires.
- The population growth theme reappears and is later quoted by a single clarinet, followed by other instruments with rapid accumulation. The “circus politics, dance of the deniers” section begins and grows into the extreme weather section, where the full orchestra is at its most intense. The birdcalls return, but this time are altered and greatly weakened.
- The next section (low brass, harp, strings) is the darkest yet, describing the worst and most damaging human impact on the environment (severe air and water pollution). The inexorability theme returns, along with timpani solo and trombones’ slow glissandos, describing melting arctic ice.
- Next a gradual tonal clash symbolizes the current conflict between the constant, rapidly expanding world-wide growth and the need for sustainability. Flora and stream themes return, expressing nature’s resilience. The solo oboe symbolizes that each individual can make a difference and depicts humanity’s capacity for resolve and greatness.
- This section is based on a palindrome of the opening Big Bang as a form of rebirth, punctuated by an S.O.S. motive in the brass, and culminating with a quote from Bach’s chorale Es ist genug (“It is enough”) in the first oboe, solo cello, first trumpet and first violins, indicating that we have enough evidence and that the point of no return is near, warranting immediate, global action of the greatest magnitude.
- The coda begins with the drought/fire pulse and theme and soon is joined by the bird, ocean and SHE motifs, expressing the resilience of nature as well as human ingenuity in seeking solutions and adapting to a very fast evolving world. The piece ends with a violin duet symbolizing the possible and so necessary return to a state of harmony between humans and nature.