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Richard Rodney Bennett

Publisher: Novello & Co

Sea Change (1983)
commissioned with funds from West Midlands Arts for the Three Choirs Festival
Text Writer
Shakespeare, Marvell and Spenser
Novello & Co Ltd
Chorus a cappella / + 1 instrument
Year Composed
15 Minutes
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Programme Note
Richard Rodney Bennett Sea Change (1983)
Sea Change was composed during 1983 in New York in response to a commission from the Three Choirs Festival. It was first performed in Worcester Cathedral in August by the Donald Hunt Singers. It takes its title from Ariel's song in Shakespeare's Tempest (see words to IV below). By setting texts contemporary with the 16th century epic sea voyages of discovery, Bennett seeks to convey the other-worldliness of the sea as experienced by land-dwelling humans.

Harmonically and emotionally, Sea Change is a direct descendant of those musical seascapes, tinged with fantasy and ancient mysteries, typical of many compositions by British composers this century. It is most certainly a tribute to the Three Shakespeare Songs of Vaughan Williams, and many parallels with that earlier work can be heard. But his is not mere copy. Bennett adds his own personal mastery of vocal 'orchestration' and uses the coloristic potential of the octotonic scale (alternate tones and semitones) to beautiful, sometimes awesome effect in the layered textures of settings I, II and IV.

Each of these three settings is preceded by a single note from a set of three tubular bells tuned to C, E and C sharp which announce the central pitches round which revolve all the melodic and harmonic ideas of the music.

The third setting is, by contrast, only approximately notated with regard to pitch and harmony (though rhythm and dynamics are strictly prescribed), the intention being to create a more monstrous cacophony for the catalogue of maritime horrors than absolute control of pitch might provide.

Christopher Clark

  • Ensemble
    Cambridge Singers
    John Rutter
Sea-Change (1983), a set of unaccompanied choral settings recounting perilous sea voyages, gave the excellent BBC Symphony Chorus under Stephen Jackson a chance to shine. An affectionate and worthwhile contribution to the English choral tradition, Sea-Change emerged as more than just a tributary of Delius, Stanford and Ralph Vaughan Williams, being at times a powerful evocation of the dangers of sea-life.
Paul Conway, Tempo,01/01/2007
Sea-Change for a cappella chorus (plus tubular bells) was a new-fangled tumult in a native tradition harking back to Vaughan Williams and further.
Paul Driver, The Sunday Times,16/04/2006
The highlight was a no-holds-barred setting of Edmund Spenser; a passage from The Faerie Queene describing an array of gruesome underwater life such as David Attenborough never found. Exact in rhythm but free in pitch, the music gleefully babbled and roared and came at you like crashing waves – all the imagery you could ask.
Robert Maycock, The Independent,11/04/2006
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