Elgar Sea Pictures*
Mendelssohn Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage
Britten Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes
ArtistsEnglish Symphony Orchestra
In 1899, when Elgar composed Sea Pictures, the sea was still largely represented as the “Great Unknown”, navigated by frail ships and the desire for more exploration. Elgar’s choice of poems for this work embody both the fear and fascination of the sea: its beauty, its symbolism, and its dangers.
Inspired by Beethoven’s piece of the same name, Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage is a concert overture depicting two contrasting poems by Goethe, not through the voice, but with instruments. Goethe did not always respond positively to composers who found themselves inspired by his work, but there was an affection between Goethe and Mendelssohn which led to him saying ‘Sail well in your music, and may your voyages ever be as prosperous’.
Britten’s Four Sea Interludes were originally part of six interludes found in his opera, Peter Grimes, and were used to facilitate scene changes which he later adapted to become an orchestral suite. Through his imaginative orchestration, Four Sea Interludes not only reinforces the opera’s coastal setting but also reminds the listener of the social commentaries and issues the opera explores and portrays the sea as a character in its own right.
Elcock’s Wreck brings to life a ship at sea, battered by the elements, but somehow struggling on. The inevitable “wreck” leads unexpectedly to an off-stage voice, singing a story of salvation beyond despair.