Heaven, Tear Apart
(choir + ensemble)

Published: 2020

“I sketched Heaven, Tear Apart (“Himmel Reisse”) while visiting family in Australia over Christmas. I watched the bushfire crisis unfold on television each night as people expressed anger and despair over such unprecedented destruction, devastating loss of life and nature, and the political circus surrounding it. Inspired by the dramatic imagery of words like “Heaven, tear apart, world tremble … see my torment and fear,” I felt compelled to mix Bach with musical ideas that convey the anger and frustration I saw on television and social media from Australia and people all over the world throughout 2019-20 generally. The original “Himmel Reisse” was one of three arias from the 1724 version of Bach’s St John Passion that were later omitted. While Bach depicts various chaotic moments in his telling of the Passion story, my piece extends on this by reviving his discarded aria and adapting it into a 21st century musical and emotional context.

The original version features a high baritone soloist combined with trebles singing the chorale tune “Jesu, deine Passion” (Jesus thy passion is for me pure joy). Similarly, my own ‘reflection’ of the Bach adopts a baritone soloist, but now engaging all voices of the chorus, responding to the baritone’s melismatic announcement of the heavens exploding with loud, declamatory chords, glissandos and shouting vocal effects. As the work progresses, these moments of chaos are suddenly contrasted with stillness and tranquillity, reflecting the soloist’s description of torment, fear, and his ultimate devotion to Jesus. Again the choir responds to the baritone, this time with the chorale “Jesu, deine Passion” from Bach’s original aria, but reharmonised here for all vocal parts. Now the choir takes on a different role to the dramatic opening. The music suddenly modulates each time the choir interrupts with the chorale tune, reflecting the love and hope of Jesus before bringing us back to earth as the baritone continues his sorrowful lament above a repeated 10-note ground bass. Musical ideas like this feature throughout, built from motives and structures that echo the original Bach but now within a highly dramatic musical journey; opening with great anger, descending into sadness and despair, occasionally resting with momentary glimmers of hope and joy.”