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Totality (2024)

for SATB choir | 00:06:00

by Melissa Dunphy | text by Melissa Dunphy

Commissioned by BBC Radio 3, VOCES8 and The King's Singers, and first performed by them, at the BBC Proms, on 21 July 2024 at the Royal Albert Hall, London. Commission supported by Gregory Peterson and The King's Singers Global Foundation.

Composer's Notes

The text for Totality was inspired by my experience of total solar eclipses in 2017 and 2024. Previous to 2017, I had enjoyed seeing annular and partial eclipses, but I was surprised by my intense physical and emotional response to being present during a totality event; even with a 21st-century understanding of astronomy, I was overwhelmed by a primal and almost nihilistic joy, and gained a sudden clear insight into ancient religions that worshipped and feared a sun god. This connection across time seems borne out by similar reactions recorded in works written after the eclipse of 648 B.C.E. by the Greek poets Archilochus and Pindar (Fragment 122 and Paean IX), and I heavily reference their texts in my own. The music attempts to capture the swirling juxtaposition of both stillness and near-manic excitement felt during a total eclipse?and I could not resist a musical pun on the syllables ?Sol? and ?Re?, outlining the harmonic overtone series integral to the Ancient Greek concept of musica universalis, or the music of the spheres.

By Melissa Dunphy

There are no more surprises,
no more miracles,
nothing matters anymore,
for I have seen midnight at high noon
and felt indescribable awe.
My heart races,
my breath comes in gasps,
stars dance in my staring eyes,
wild thoughts chatter through my mind,
and a strange and ancient laughter pours out of my mouth.
O great Sol,
giver of light and sight?
now a dark round abyss
crowned in a cold swirling mist:
Have we angered you?
Are we being judged?
Do you warn of some new disaster?
a war or famine,
or a terrible storm of our own creation?
Will we survive the destruction and learn to start anew?
There is nothing left now but delirious wonder.
Arrogance wanes at this proof of our inconsequence.
I am one with our ancestors and those yet to come,
and I face our shared fate with an untamed elation.

Artwork by Matt Dunphy.


  • 21 Jul, 2024: The King's Singers & VOCES8 at Royal Albert Hall, London, England