Universal Declaration of Human Rights inspires musical work, ‘Voices’

Composer Max Richter poses for a photo in Oxford
Composer Max Richter poses for a photo in Oxford, Britain October 5, 2019. Courtesy of Mike Terry/Studio Richter Mahr Ltd./Handout via REUTERS

July 1, 2020

By Sarah Mills

LONDON – Composer Max Richter’s new album “Voices” features narrators reading parts of the 70-year-old Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which he believes can stir hope in a world where we “lurch from crisis to crisis”.   

His piece starts with the voice of Eleanor Roosevelt, first lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945, who was instrumental in setting up the Declaration in 1948 after World War Two.

Roosevelt explains the Declaration is “for all peoples and all nations”. Actor Kiki Layne then reads Article One, which begins “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” to a musical accompaniment.

“I wanted a young voice to read this Declaration because for me, the Declaration is about the potential of the future, the potential of that text,” Richter told Reuters.

Other voices, crowd sourced by Richter, read in their native languages further parts of the text, which asserts that every person has the right to life, liberty and security without any type of distinction, such as by race, colour, social origin, religion or politics.

A classical pianist with a love of German electronic band Kraftwerk, Richter was born in Germany but grew up in Britain. He has sold over one million albums and is renowned for his minimalist yet melodic and emotive style.

“One of the starting points for the piece really was my sense that the promise and hopefulness of that Declaration… was evaporating before our eyes,” he said.

The piece was conceived when Richter thought about the U.S. Guantanamo Bay detention camp – opened to hold suspects captured by the United States overseas after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and his sense that “the world had gone wrong in a new kind of way.”

“The topic of human rights is relevant all the time and as we lurch from crisis to crisis different aspects of it are highlighted and brought into focus,” he said.

The Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd in the United States are a reckoning he said, over what is fundamentally an issue of human rights.   

“Voices” will be published on July 31, while the track “All Human Beings” taken from the album has just been released.

(Editing by Alexandra Hudson)