Sea Sketches (Grace Williams)

…Breakers recalls the storm-tossed waves dashing against the rocky coastline. There is an introductory passage built around an expanding chord, before the violins sweep towards an urgent tune above a tumult of hectic activity…

Terry Barfoot

Program note
GRACE WILLIAMS (1906–1977)
SEA SKETCHES
FOR STRING ORCHESTRA

High Wind
Sailing Song
Channel Sirens
Breakers
Calm Sea in Summer

The Sea Sketches rank as a notable addition to the rich repertory of British compositions inspired by the sea. Grace Williams dedicated the music to her parents, thanking them ‘for their good sense in setting up home on the coast of Glamorgan.’ For not only does the music take inspiration from the imagery of the sea, it frequently includes local points of reference too. The sea in focus here is the Bristol Channel.

The first movement, entitled High Wind, evokes a blustery day with rough waves. The middle and lower parts of the string texture are appropriately lively, generating a veritable fury of activity, while above there is a magnificent tune played by the violins.

Sailing Song could hardly be more different. The rhythmic movement is comfortably light, as a high-pitched violin tune moves gently above a rocking bass line.

Channel Sirens is altogether more complex, a reminder of the dangers of fog and mist. The sound of the warning siren is heard, as the music edges its way forward. Atmosphere is the prime consideration.

Breakers recalls the storm-tossed waves dashing against the rocky coastline. There is an introductory passage built around an expanding chord, before the violins sweep towards an urgent tune above a tumult of hectic activity.

Although a storm scene might offer a natural climax and conclusion to the sequence, Williams prefers to revert to a tranquil mood. Thus the final movement is Calm Sea in Summer, evoking an ideal summer’s day with the boats gently swaying to the easy motion of the sea, before the vision fades to silence.

© Terry Barfoot

Reproduced with kind permission from Oxford University Press

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