by Frederick Delius
"Music is an outburst of the soul."
- Frederick Delius
A beautifully moving, but rarely heard composition, is Frederick Delius's setting of "Sea Drift" (from Walt Whitman's poem "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking"). It's scored for solo baritone, chorus and orchestra and tells, touchingly, of a young boy watching two sea birds who have clearly bonded for life. Then, one day, the she-bird flies away never to return. The male waits for his mate singing his forlorn lament to the moon, the stars and the sea. The rich baritone part is a perfect example of the blend of words and music. The two choral works, "Songs of Farewell" and "Songs of Sunset" Delius's musical voice was one of the most original, Sea Drift is among the larger-scale musical works that he composed. He completed it in 1903-1904 and it was first performed in 1906.
Sea Drift takes its name from a section of Walt Whitman's poetical compilation Leaves of Grass which contains several poems about the sea or the shore. While the text is drawn from the poem Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking, it does not use the full text. In a long section usually printed in italics, the he-bird, unable to leave in case his mate should return and find him gone, waits forever and calls his sorrowful song to the moon, the stars and the sea, which are heavy and drooping with his lost love. The text employed by Delius closes with the gull's apostrophe, 'translated' by the boy, who seems to understand it, or projects it from his own awakening feelings. The poem however continues to explain how the boy's feelings suddenly burst out tumultuously, and he ran weeping down to the sea in the moonlight as the gull's call unlocked the questions in his own heart. Knowing that he will never escape the unknown want aroused in him, 'the sweet hell within', he begs for some word more of understanding.
The unhurrying sea
'Lisp'd to me the low and delicious word death,
And again death, death, death, death,
Hissing melodious, neither like the bird nor like my arous'd child's heart,
But edging near as privately for me rustling at my feet,
Creeping thence steadily up to my ears and laving me softly all over,
Death, death, death, death, death.'
If you like this work by Delius you might enjoy his Piano Concerto or his Florida Suite.
Sea Drift by Frederick Delius. Bryn Terfel with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra & Chorus.