Sea Change

ENS.2022.3 | 21′
Soprano Solo, Countertenor Solo, Tenor Solo, Baritone Solo, SATB Chorus, Sax4tet-


Sea Change

Toward the end of June 2006, having slept and ate too little over the course of several days, I collapsed and found myself briefly in the hospital. After returning home I was subsequently visited on successive nights by a series of lengthy, vivid dreams, the last of which was remarkable for its musical content. In this dream I watched the premiere of my newest composition, a setting of Shakespeare’s The Tempest—my favorite play, much of which I know by heart—performed by a vocal quartet accompanied by several stringed instruments. Upon waking I went directly to my desk, where I was able to transcribe the first minute or two of the music I had heard in my dream—to this day the only music I have ever dreamed and then been able to remember and notate. Though this oneiric kernel quickly grew into a miniature twenty-minute oratorio for vocal quartet and small ensemble, it never really felt finished, and went through several unsatisfactory versions before being temporarily abandoned.

Almost exactly sixteen years later in June 2022, having recently successfully excised the vocal part from another failed piece of the same vintage to which I then composed an entirely new orchestral accompaniment (Orfordness), I decided to attempt the same reclamation process with Sea Change, adding a full chorus and an orchestra with saxophones to the original vocal quartet. Though following the original musical outline, this orchestral part is almost entirely new, while although the vocal material was redistributed, the sung text remains as it was (and was dreamt) in 2006.

My ambition in selecting text from The Tempest was create a pocket version of the play, a kind of puppet theater Shakespeare—a Tempest in a Teacup, as the tongue-in-cheek subtitle has it. In so doing I ended up choosing passages that focused on Prospero’s island family (Miranda, Caliban, Gonzalo, Ferdinand, Prospero himself, and of course Ariel’s songs), passing over the court intrigues and connecting narrative almost entirely. Solo quasi-arias alternate with larger ensemble passages, and the work overall forms a musical palindrome, moving from wrack to love, and thence finally to the grave.