Endless Forms Most Beautiful 

For Soprano and String Quartet
(2019) 20 minutes

Commissioned by Carola Darwin and premiered by Carola Darwin and the Gildas Quartet at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History on 18th October 2019, as part of the Oxford Lieder Festival.

Programme note

Endless Forms Most Beautiful was premiered at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History on the 18th November 2019 by Carola Darwin and the Gildas Quartet. Commissioned by Carola Darwin with funds from Arts Council England, the Ambache Trust and the RVW Trust, this seven-song cycle sets texts by Walter Deverell (1827-1854) and the museum's three 2016 Poets-in-Residence: John Barnie, Steven Matthews and Kelley Swain.


"The Oxford University Museum of Natural History is, I’ll grant, an unusual concert venue, but its iron columns and glass roof made for a surprisingly clean acoustic. And I’d be pushed to name somewhere more on brand for the premiere of a work that explored evolution and the environment — that’s the beauty, of course, of a thoughtfully designed concert.

Endless Forms Most Beautiful is a shrewd, witty and imaginative song-cycle by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, the associate composer at the Oxford Lieder festival — although this particular piece was commissioned by Carola Darwin, the great-great-granddaughter of Charles. An accomplished soprano, Darwin was joined by the Gildas Quartet, after their graceful, brief Purcell.

Frances-Hoad turns silence into a canvas on to which flourishes are painted with bold, deft brushstrokes. Voice and quartet interacted in interesting ways, and strong ideas were given space: in The Garden spiky violins emulated pecking sparrows, the viola interjected with a “swoony stir”. In Let’s Do It pizzicatos and double-stops comically suggested the waddling dodo; punchy chords hammered home the fallen, compressed, sinking bones of the fifth song.

There were seven in total, with texts by four poets: Walter Deverell, John Barnie, Steven Matthews and Kelley Swain. So no narrative, but meditations on a theme. And was there a message? The set ends with an elegy for the natural world, asking how it might be now if we had paid it attention. “Maybe we’d change our thoughts. Maybe we would think.”" Rebecca Franks, The Times

Performance history (post-premiere)

28th November 2019 - Carola Darwin and The Gildas Quartet at Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, UK.