Karel Husa: "Apotheosis of this Earth"
Apotheosis of this Earth
Tragedy of Destruction
Born: August 7, 1921 in Prague, Czech Republic
Instrumentation: Concert Band
Duration: 25 minutes
Composed: October 1970
In the late 1960’s, Husa became increasingly concerned about the deterioration of the earth’s environment. He recalls impressions from the summer of 1970: “I saw an incredible number of dead fish floating on Lake Cayuga near [my summer] cottage. The new power plant was producing hot water that caused thermal pollution, which in turn killed all those fish. In addition, I noticed more beer cans in the water and algae in greater quantities. I thought, ‘we are wasting this planet.’ It was then that I got my first idea for Apotheosis.” In reflecting on the first sketches of the new work, he recalled the pictures of baby seals being killed for their furs, and the desperation created by the nuclear arms race. One of his former students at Cornell, Dr. Roger Payne, was actively involved in the scientific study of whales and invited Husa to listen to recorded sounds of whales. He was so moved by the recordings and the fact that whales were still being hunted without restrictions that he decided to imitate those sounds in his new score. In addition, the view of earth from the moon, as seen for the first time on television in 1969, influenced the point of departure for Apotheosis of this Earth.
Husa wrote the following note for the premiere performance (given by the University of Michigan Band in 1971):
The composition of Apotheosis of this Earth was motivated by the present desperate stage of mankind and its immense problems with everyday killings, war, hunger, extermination of fauna, huge forest fires, and critical contamination of the whole environment.
Man’s brutal possession and misuse of nature’s beauty—if continued at today’s reckless speed—can only lead to catastrophe. The composer hopes that the destruction of this beautiful earth can be stopped, so that the tragedy of destruction—musically portrayed in the second movement—and the desolation of the aftermath (the “postscript” of the third movement) can exist only as fantasy, never to become reality.
In the first movement, Apotheosis, the earth first appears as a point of light in the universe. Our memory and imagination approach it in perhaps the same way as it appeared to the astronauts returning from the moon. The earth grows larger and larger, and we can even remember some of its tragic moments (as struck by the xylophone near the end of the movement).
The second movement, Tragedy of Destruction, deals with the actual brutalities of man against nature, leading to the destruction of our planet, perhaps by radioactive explosion. The earth dies as a savagely, mortally wounded creature.
The last movement is a Postscript, full of the realization that so little is left to be said: the earth has been pulverized into the universe, the voices scattered into space. Toward the end, these voices — at first computer-like and mechanical — unite into the words "this beautiful earth," simply said, warm and filled with regret...and one of so many questions comes to our minds: ‘Why have we let this happen?’”
When Husa was asked to identify his best work, he responded that it would be like choosing a favorite child. When he was urged to choose, he named Apotheosis of this Earth. The work remains chillingly relevant today.