Richard Rodney Bennett
Publisher: Novello & Co
Sea Change (1983)
commissioned with funds from West Midlands Arts for the Three Choirs Festival
Shakespeare, Marvell and Spenser
Novello & Co Ltd
Chorus a cappella / Chorus plus 1 instrument
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.