Sea Change, or, The Tempest in a Teacup

ENS.2006.4 | 17′
Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass & String Quartet


Sea Change, or, The Tempest in a Teacup

In late June 2006, having apparently forgotten to eat anything or to sleep for several days, to my surprise I collapsed. After returning from a brief stay in the hospital, I was visited on successive nights by extremely lengthy and vivid dreams, one of which stood out for its musical content.

In the dream I was watching a performance of my newest work, a setting of Shakespeare’s The Tempest—my favorite play, much of which I know by heart—performed by the Hilliard Ensemble accompanied by several instruments including a guitar and cello, conducted by Hans Werner Henze (of all people). I woke up and wrote down the piece I’d dreamed.

Then I actually woke up. I went to my desk and managed to transcribe about a minute of what I remembered, which is preserved unchanged as Sea Change’s opening. To this day it remains the only time I have ever dreamed music and been able to recall it upon waking.

The piece I ended up writing added a bass clarinet and viola to the dream’s guitar and cello, matching the dark timbres of the all-male Hilliard Ensemble. However, much of the vocal and instrumental writing proved problematic, and several years later I revisited the material, substituting a mixed chorus of solo voices for the male ensemble and recomposing the accompaniment for string quartet.

My selections from the play focus on what could be termed Prospero’s island family. Passages highlighting Miranda, Caliban, Ariel, Ferdinand, and of course Prospero are featured, ignoring the court intrigues and overall narrative almost entirely. Formally, Sea Change alternates narrative choral interludes with “arias” featuring each of the four soloists, and lasts between fifteen and twenty minutes.