The Whole Earth Dances

For Piano Quintet
(2016) 11 minutes
Orchestration: pf/

Commissioned by The Schubert Ensemble with funds gratefully received from The Schubert Ensemble Trust, Spitalfields Festival New Music Commission Fund and The Steel Charitable Trust. Premiered by The Schubert Ensemble at Queen Mary University London during the Spitalfields Music Festival on Monday 13th June 2016.

Programme note

I am lucky to have a wonderful park just ten minutes walk from my house: I can leave home and be back within the hour having walked around a lake and under what I imagine to be vaulted roofs made only from trees. I like to walk the same path every time I go, paying attention to the many changes that can occur suddenly (such as the weather) and gradually (such as the changing colour of the leaves). Today, when much of the Earth is being polluted, fracked and deforested, it seems particularly important to really notice and respect the land, to feel a connection to it.

Two poems, entitled Thistles and Ferns (both from Wodwo) by Ted Hughes also inspired my work, and added a resonance to the thistles and ferns that I see nearly every time I walk. The Whole Earth Dances is a single, slow movement divided into five continuous parts: thistles, ferns, thistles, ferns, thistles. Hughesʼs description of the former (ʻEvery one a revengeful burst of resurrectionʼ) and the latter (ʻHere is the fernʼs frond, unfurling a gestureʼ) influence all the musical material in the work, and I have tried to imbue the piece with the sense of timelessness that I feel when walking with his poems (with their allusions to Vikings and ʻwarriors returningʼ) in my head.

The Whole Earth Dances is dedicated to the memory of my friend Becs Andrews, a fiercely talented Stage designer and Visual artist who passed away at the beginning of the year.

© Cheryl Frances-Hoad, 2016


"Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s new piece for the Schubert Ensemble was partly inspired by visits to a local park, where experiencing elements of the natural world helped her, she says, to respect the land and feel a connection to it; poems by Ted Hughes also played their part in underpinning this 10-minute slow movement that alternates, in the composer’s imagery, thistles with ferns.

The result – The Whole Earth Dances – is a work that begins abrasively but gradually acquires a sense of vision through the intricate interweaving of lyrical lines and a steady infusion of super-enriched, Messiaen-like harmony. It achieves a radiant close." 

George Hall, The Guardian

"Commissioned by the Schubert Ensemble, Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s The Whole Earth Dances has a title that shoots off in multiple directions, from health foods to Birtwistle. It was premiered at Spitalfields in 2016. The composer speaks of the need to ‘really notice and respect the land, to feel a connection to it’. The piece is inspired by poems by Ted Hughes from Wodwo and is cast in one single movement that may be subdivided into five sections: thistles, ferns, thistles, ferns, thistles. Frances-Hoad deliberately sets out to create the sense of timelessness in this piece for piano, violin, viola, cello and double-bass. Dramatic gestures and the power of the unison are vital components here initially before a sense of nostalgia, pining and loneliness sets in. Frances-Hoad often sets up expectations only to gleefully confound them." Colin Clarke, Seen and Heard International

Performance history (post-premiere)

28th November 2019 - Psappha at Hallé St. Peter's, Manchester, UK

10th February 2018 - The Schubert Ensemble in Ashland, Oregon, USA

8th October 2017 - The Schubert Ensemble in St. Paul, USA

7th October 2017 - The Schubert Ensemble at Saint Anthony Park United Church of Christ, Minneapolis, USA 

22 September 2017 - Quintet Cairdeasat Thurso West Church, Thurso, Scotland, UK

21st September 2017 - Quintet Cairdeas at Smithton and Culloden Free Church, Inverness, UK

15th July 2016 - The Schubert Ensemble at Trinity College, Cambridge, UK. Part of the Cambridge Summer Music Festival (opening concert). 

1st July 2016 - The Schubert Ensemble at All Saints, Oystermouth, Wales as part of the Gower Festival 

14th June 2016 - The Schubert Ensemble at the Birmingham Conservatoire


Recording available (contact Chester for more information)

Due for release by Champs Hill Records (on The Whole Earth Dances, Cheryl's fifth disc with the label) in 2020.