Program Notes: as is the sea marvelous

Matthew Lyon Hazzard
Matthew Lyon Hazzard
e. e. cummings
e. e. cummings
Eric Whitacre
Eric Whtacre

Notes from Scott Youngs

One text for this concert is set by two different composers.  This is the e. e. cummings poem “as is the sea marvelous.”  We chose one setting by Eric Whitacre that presents the poem simply and quietly with an undercurrent of crushed chords in the piano.  The second setting, by Matthew Hazzard, presents a completely different interpretation, using an eight-part choir plus a soloist in a more extended and lush treatment of the poem.  The poetry itself leaves much to the imagination and allows us to consider the sea as a metaphor for love, existence, and eternity.

as is the sea marvelous
by e. e. cummings

as is the sea marvelous
from god’s
hands which sent her forth
to sleep upon the world

and the earth withers
the moon crumbles
one by one
stars flutter into dust

but the sea
does not change
and she goes forth out of hands and
she returns into hands

and is with sleep….

    the breaking

of your
my lips

Notes from Eric Whitacre
as is the sea marvelous is No. 4 from “The City and the Sea,” settings of five poems of e. e. cummings.
This tender setting creates an image of the ebb and flow of the sea, through pulsating parallel cluster chords in the piano and long legato vocal phrases.

Notes from Matthew Lyon Hazzard

as is the sea marvelous is a work about unconditional love. Like the sea waxing and waning throughout the ages, love itself waxes and wanes, yet always endures. The earth may wither and the moon may crumble, but love will forever nourish the soul; breaking like waves upon the shores “of our lips”.

My composition style is very much in line with other modern choral music composers.  That said, I also grew up listening to Radiohead and Bjork. I love those lush, sweeping landscapes of sound that they build in their music. My language tends to be very lush with different lines coalescing to create an atmospheric kind of sound. At least, that’s what I go for.

I’m also an impressionist; paintings and visual language really inspire me.  The poetry is so vivid that it informs the shape of the piece.

as is the sea marvelous is a description of a deep, unconditional love. Like the sea, it waxes and wanes, yet remains perpetual and unchanging in the face of time. Whether the poem is about a specific person or not is up to interpretation. For me, though, the poem is about much more than that. The sea has been constant since the dawn of man, and to describe sensuality with that kind of image – to compare love itself to something as massive and enduring as the sea – only serves to show how profound love can be.

For the piece itself, I have to admit it’s one of the works I am the most proud of. There’s something about the sea as described in e. e. cummings’ poem though that lends itself to music. The text ebbs and flows. “she goes forth out of hands, and returns into hands.” There’s a give and take to the way he phrases everything: a contrast. The way he uses language is so captivating that it kind of haunts the mind. I’ll never be able to erase the perfect image of the sea sleeping upon the world while “the earth withers, and the moon crumbles.” It’s a profoundly beautiful way of describing how something can endure.

And then – what feels like a little twist at the end – he mentions love.

There are some deep-seated reasons why I love to write for voices. When two voices come together and sing in perfect dissonance, there’s nothing else in the world like it. There’s a reason why it’s a choir of angels. It’s just one of those natural phenomena that makes you sit back in awe. That beauty is definitely something I feel I’ve been chasing through my music.

(Notes Source:  as is the sea marvelous was the Grand Prize Winner of the 18th Street Singers 10th Anniversary Composition Competition in 2014.)

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