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A Sea Symphony (Vaughan Williams)


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Relayed from The Cambridge University Musical Society's Performance at Cambridge
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS has taken parts of poems by Walt Whitman and wrought them into a work in which, as he himself has expressed it, 'the words as well as the music are treated symphonically.'
The music is written for Orchestra, Choir, and Soprano and Baritone Soloists. The poems treated are from Leaves of Grass - those entitled Sea Drift, Song of the Exposition, and Passage to India.
FIRST MOVEMENT. A Song of all Seas, all Ships. The harmony of the opening phrase, 'Behold the sea itself,' which comes from the eighth section of the Song of the Exposition, should be noted, for it is one of two chief motifs which often recur, in one shape or another, in the work. The other motif follows immediately after it-the melody at the words ' and on its limitless, heaving breast, the ships.'
SECOND MOVEMENT. On the Beach at Night Alone. The words here are also from one of the Sea Drift poems, the title of which Vaughan Williams has adopted for the Movement. It is a meditative nocturne. In the first bars we note the 'sea' motif again. Baritone and Chorus begin, and after a page or two, a new theme enters (at 'a vast similitude inter-lacks all'). A big climax is worked up. the Orchestra constantly repeating a rhythm. Then the opening feeling of the Movement is reestablished, and the Movement dies away.
THIRD MOVEMENT. Scherzo-The Waves. The words are those of After the Sea-Ship, the last of the Sea Drift poems. The Choir and Orchestra only are used to give a vivid, at times almost breath-taking, impression of the ideas in the poem.
FOURTH MOVEMENT. The Explorers. The words are from Passage to India. The poet feels that he begins to understand the purpose of this 'vast Rondure, swimming in space,' and all the wonders of nature.
The thought of man brings a change of mood at 'Down from the gardens of Asia descending. Adam and Eve appear.' Tenors and Basses sing a modal melody. Soon Sopranos and Altos break in very softly with the eternal question. 'Wherefore, unsatisfied soul? Whither, O mocking life?' Follows the assurance that 'the first intent remains, and shall be carried out... The true Son of God shall come singing his songs.'
The Baritone and Soprano soloists join in a duet, 'O we can wait no longer, we too take ship, O soul, ...launch out on trackless, seas...
The choir too takes up the Bong, and the work ends in mystical quietness at the words 'O farther sail, O my brave soul.'


Unknown: Walt Whitman
Unknown: Vaughan Williams

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