The Lapse of Time is an oratorio based on strikingly poetic excerpts from Darwin’s revolutionary book On the Origin of Species.  It is written by the Norwegian composer Bjørn Morten Christophersen and the work is a tribute to the evolution of life on earth and draws musical links between natural science, religion and art.

Indeed it may be thought surprising to find a vein of poetry running through a dissertation of natural science, but that is in fact the case with Darwin’s iconic book, which at the same time is one of the most ground-breaking scientific works ever written. Christophersen has set music to excerpts from The Origin of Species after carefully adapting them into singable phrases – nothing has been added, we hear only Darwin’s own words in this oratorio.

The Lapse of Time is a large-scale musical drama in which two soloists, choir and orchestra move through slow-building waves from the barely audible to magnificent climaxes. The work is full of life: listeners feel the textures within the orchestra while the singers chant an astonishingly poetic text. Profound, playful, dramatic and humorous passages are woven together into a large organic musical whole. The Lapse of Time also has a sacred flavour to it by involving both the church organ and elements of plainchant. Through this work, Christophersen hopes to create a basis for shared wonder and excitement between natural science, religion and art.

Life on earth has developed across a huge span of time to emerge as overwhelmingly rich and complex as we experience it today. This idea was a completely new realisation in Darwin’s time and indeed it met with strong opposition, especially from the church and can still spark controversy in some circles even today. If we cannot easily grasp the concept of billions of years, how can we understand that even minor changes from one generation to the next can result in immense diversity? Perhaps music can offer a forum, as it is the very form of art most suitable for experiencing time in various ways. In this work, for example, the orchestra and choir initiate a dialogue with their own past, i.e. with those parts of the work that we have already heard. Music from our memory emerges into our present and affects the future of our now.

The Lapse of Time was premiered in 2013 in Kristiansund and Ålesund in the west coast of Norway. This recording was made in February 2022 by Ditte Marie Bræin, Frank Havrøy, Inger-Lise Ulsrud, Ensemble 96, Telemark Chamber Orchestra and conductors Nina T. Karlsen and Per Kristian Skalstad in Frogner Church in Oslo in a collaboration with ‘Darwin Day’ at the University of Oslo. This was at a time when the Omicron virus was still sweeping through Norway, which made the preparations truly demanding. In return, it was a most longed for and magnificent concert experience for the Oslo audience.

The Norwegian composer B. Morten Christophersen (1976-) has written music for orchestra, choir, chamber ensembles as well as film music and stage music. He has also written more than 150 arrangements, most of them for orchestra. Christophersen has collaborated with Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, The Norwegian Opera, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Norwegian Radio Orchestra, Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra, Royal Norwegian Navy Band, Ålesund Chamber Music Festival, Schola Cantorum (Oslo), Ensemble 96 as well as Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) and others. He is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Musicology, University of Oslo and has been teaching composition, arranging, harmony, orchestration and counterpoint there since 2003. In 2016 he completed his PhD on the Norwegian composer Johan Svendsen’s sketches and music theory exercises.