I. “Exultation is the goingof an inland soul to sea…” —Emily Dickinson
II. “A lone gray bird…alone in the shadows and grandeurs and tumults of night and the sea” —Carl Sandburg
III. “A fragrant breeze wandered up from the quiet sea” —Douglas Adams
IV. “Out of the darkness…jets of sparks in fountains of blue come leaping” —D. H. Lawrence
V. “So fine was the morning except for a streak of wind here and there that the sea and sky looked all one fabric” —Virginia Woolf
VI. “I, while the gods laugh, the world's vortex am; maelström of passions in that hidden sea” —Mervyn Peake
VII. “…let us find a place ‘neath ocean’s breast and bid her lie where waves are kind.” —Benjamin Franklin Field
I have always held a deep fascination for the sea and for all things maritime: the harbor sounds and smells of shipping business, the slap of waves against anchored hulls, the elegant dance of sea plants floating beneath the docks, the distant clang of bells, the taste of salty wind. This fascination is counterbalanced by a certain degree of fear—of the ocean’s vast depths and hidden perils.
The sea has been a source of inspiration for the best work of many composers, though for me, it is Benjamin Britten who found the most poignantly evocative language to capture its essence in his two biggest operas, Billy Budd and Peter Grimes. In the case of the latter, much has been written about the sea’s function as a metaphor for Grimes’ subconscious, its storms a representation of his inner turmoil. Though the music in Seven Seascapes is often both visual and visceral, it is largely with this “inward” approach that I composed the work’s seven movements, all of which are accompanied by excerpts from various poetry. These brief quotations aided me in giving voice and focus to my own fear and wonder about the ocean’s mysteries, and in giving the work its shape.
Seven Seascapes was commissioned by Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival. It is dedicated with deep gratitude and admiration to Marya Martin.