Rhapsody in Black

Errollyn Wallen's compositions are out of this world

Errollyn Wallen is a leading figure in today’s classical music world. Robert McFadzean / Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Rhapsody in Black - Errollyn Wallen


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September 15, 2022

Composer Errollyn Wallen has had teachers tell her that classical music is ‘not her sort of music.’ She pointed out to Gramophone in 2021 that “little was expected of her, but her career has been not so much about proving others wrong as a case of proving herself right.” She has done just that. She has composed for the late Queen Elizabeth, the 2012 London Paralympics and her music has also been to space. In 2006, Wallen inspired Canadian astronaut Steve MacLean to take some of her music with him on a space shuttle mission as he orbited the Earth 186 times.

Musical selections from Errollyn Wallen

Triple Concerto

The Kosmos ensemble, featuring Harriet Mackenzie (violin), Meg Hamilton (viola) and Milos Milivojevic (accordion), commissioned this work in partnership with the Jersey Liberation Festival. They wanted a piece that left room for them to improvise while offering the audience world music influences. Wallen combined inspiration from Byzantine Chant, jazz and Venezuelan Joropo to make a truly unique piece of music.

Peace on Earth

This performance of Peace on Earth is sung by the WDR Radio Choir conducted by Simon Halsey for its Christmas concert Joy to the World. This carol for the holiday season is best described in Wallen’s own words, “the bleakness of winter in a turning, troubled world conveyed through a slowly spinning ostinato over which the voices sing (as they themselves hear other unseen voices sing) of the hope for light and peace.”


The outstanding Brodsky Quartet commissioned this work for Brodsky Song Show Tour in 2003. This is what Wallen said about the work, ”Daedalus was the Greek mythological character who made wings for his son, Icarus. Daedalus told him not to fly too near the sun as the wax on his wings would melt; the boy ignored the warning, fell into the sea and drowned. I wrote this song from Daedalus’ perspective and alluded to his murder, years earlier, of Perdix, his nephew and apprentice, whose own talent for inventing threatened to overshadow that of Daedalus.”

Astronaut Steve MacLean
Astronaut Steve MacLean took some of Errollyn’s music with him on a Space Shuttle mission.
Courtesy of artist


Host: Tesfa Wondemagegnehu

Producer: Dan Nass

Writers: Andrea Blain and Scott Blankenship

Additional music selections: Jeffrey Yelverton

Executive Producer: Julie Amacher