Repertoire Search

Augusta Read Thomas

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Words of the Sea (1995),
G Schirmer Inc
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
17 Minutes
Programme Note
Augusta Read Thomas Words of the Sea (1995),
I. ...words of the sea...
II. ...the ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea...
III. ...beyond the genius of the sea...
IV. ...mountainous atmospheres of sky and sea... (Homage to Debussy)

Composer note:
The four movements of Words of the Sea are diverse and distinct, each undertaking to deal with the evocations prompted by each of the particular Wallace Stevens fragments. Despite their differences, in fleeting whispers or proclamations, the four movements/scenes reminisce about and relate to one another, resulting in a labyrinth of deeply interdependent connections.

The work is written to feature many of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra principal players through a series of brief solos as well as by intricate orchestration which results in distinct concertino groups momentarily rising to the foreground.

Wallace Stevens's poem forced me to see and imagine the sound of words of the sea, to appreciate an ocean's ever-hooded tragic-gestured nature, to imagine vast atmospheres — to contemplate what is beyond the genius of the sea. All of these thoughts were prompting and nurturing this music.

I yearn to reflect in my own singing the ways that listening has changed me. I write music that craves a listener. I do not write for an "audience," I request intimate contact or attempt to speak in my music to a listener — whomever that listener may be.

Not concerned with "commercial success," I am concerned with speaking honestly, which will hopefully (not necessarily) lead me toward the truth, which is the quest of art. I speak with the only voice I have " my voice " but what I say, musically, is prompted by a spirit of generosity and honesty.

— Augusta Read Thomas

  • Ensemble
    Chicago Symphony Orchestra / MusicNOW Ensemble
    Christine Brandes
    Pierre Boulez
    Augusta Read Thomas:
  • G. Schirmer / AMP:
  • Ensemble
    Various Artists
    Nimbus Alliance:
  • 26 APR 2007
    Palais des Sports, Bordeaux, France
    Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine
    Kirill Karabits, conductor
  • 26 APR 2007
    Words of the Sea Country Premiere
    Bordeaux, France
    Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine
    Kirill Karabits, conductor
  • 03 MAR 2006
    Words of the Sea Country Premiere
    Helsinki, Finland
    Finnish Radio Symphony
    Jonathan Stockhammer, conductor

There is something of the grandeur of Der fliegende Holländer in Words of the Sea, and Maestro Boulez penetrates the depths of each of the work's four unified but stylistically divergent movements, especially the fourth and final, an homage to Debussy depicting 'mountainous atmospheres of sky and sea.'
Joseph Newsome,,01/05/2014
Words of the Sea [is] a vibrant series of aquatic images that had no difficulty standing alongside favorite pieces by Barber and Prokofiev. Words of the Sea is a healthy example of a work from a composer who is smitten with the chameleonlike qualities of the orchestra and knows how to exploit its myriad facets.
Donald Rosenberg, Cleveland Plain Dealer,01/01/0001
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