Music Appreciation: The Earth Adorned by Waldemar Åhlén

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Ah, spring! Finally! The Chicago area had a brutal February, so we’re chomping at the bit

Hut in Sweden

Springtime in Sweden

for some nice, sunny days. Today it reached 50°, and it felt fabulous! Heck, we were beaten down to the point where 30° felt positively balmy, so most of us are welcoming spring with wide open arms.

The promise of warmer weather brings me to our next piece, “The Earth Adorned” (Sommarsalm, or Psalm of Summer) by Waldemar Åhlén. I sang this way back in high school. I immediately loved the beauty of it and it has stayed with me ever since.

It’s been a bit tricky to find much info on the composer. He was Swedish, living from 1894-1982. He was a church organist, teacher, and composer; his compositions included piano sonatas and choral music. He did not embrace modernity in music, an attitude that is reflected in this piece.

“The Earth Adorned” is a hymn, presented in standard SATB harmony (soprano, alto, tenor, and bass), with some parts occasionally diving further. Like most hymns, it is in strophic form, meaning that each verse is sung to the same melody. Contrast this with the previous choral piece we discussed, and you can hear the difference.

The lyrics talk about flowers and animals awakening after winter, celebrating all of God’s creation. And even though the grass, flowers, and even our human flesh fades away, God remains.

From out the wood, the birds now sing
And each its song now raises,
To join with all the universe
In voicing thankful praises.
With hope and joy their songs employ
A rapturous exultation
In praise of God’s creation

translated by Carolyn and Kenneth Jennings

I wanted to highlight the second verse, because in the YouTube video it is sung in Swedish (well, I’m assuming it’s Swedish since I don’t speak the language).

The piece begins with a lovely melody in the sopranos, with other parts providing harmony. The harmony is not overly complex, just soothing. At 0:23, it feels like we will hear a repeat of the first phrase, but the harmony shifts a bit around 0:29. This gives us a clue that we’re not simply repeating the first phrase, but providing the second half to it. The melody changes at 0:33 to conclude the first four lines.

At 0:43 the melody changes character, opening with a large leap (from E up to D, almost an octave). The phrase continues to build in range and volume, with a glorious chord at 0:54, the climax of the piece. From there, the melody works its way downward toward the end.

The second verse is sung by a soprano soloist, with the rest of the choir singing their parts on “ooo” instead of also singing the lyrics. The third and final verse is sung with the full choir all singing the lyrics.

This was a short post today, but I’m sure my lack of words won’t detract from the beauty of Åhlén’s piece. Now go outside and enjoy the sun!

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