orchestral | 1990

A Thin Halo of Blue


Year: 1990

Duration: 17'

Instrumentation: satb chorus/2(2picc)222/4330/3 perc/cel/hp/pf/str/ speaker/tape

Program Notes

A central facet of human experience is an exigency for journeying and voyaging towards discovery. Our greatest achievements in the arts and sciences spring from this inner necessity to explore the realms of our mental and physical worlds. One of the brightest manifestations of this desire has been the exploration of space. A vivid recollection of the first lunar landing in July 1969 was one of the starting points for A Thin Halo of Blue. A thin halo of blue is the first visible sigh of the Earth as it rises over the moon’s horizon.

The exploration of space has opened new horizons to our understanding of and feeling for our own planet. Space photography has shown beauty and order hitherto unknown. Astronauts’ comments constantly refer to the mystery, beauty fragility and wholeness of our planet.

A Thin Halo of Blue is a musical and poetic response to our desire for journeying. The spoken texts compiled by the composer are drawn from comments made by astronauts, and towards the end, a litany-like list of features on the Earth, visible from space. The choral text, in Latin derives from place-names on the moon and is imbued with an evocative sense of poetic imagery. In addition to singing, the choir is called upon to whisper, speak and shout these names. The texts of the speaker and choir have constant points of reference eg. when the speaker talks of “a strange dreamlike sensation of freedom” the choir sings “Palus somni, Lacus somniorum” (Marsh of sleep, lake of dreams).

A Thin Halo of Blue was RTÉ’s entry for the 1990 Prix Italia. The live performance version was first performed in the National Concert Hall, Dublin in 1991 at the opening ceremony of the United Nations Conference on Water and the Environment. It is dedicated to my wife, Philomena.


Barry McGovern (speaker)
Anthony Byrne (piano)
Cantique (choir)
RTÉ Concert Orchestra
Colman Pearce (conductor)