• org
  • SATB
  • 22 min

Programme Note

THE SEA OF GLASS is a setting of words from the Old Testament prophets and from Revelation, which alternates between descriptions of almost cosmic disaster and contrasting visions of unearthly peace. I have used the Latin of the Vulgate for musical reasons. The passage concerning the Seven Angels from Apocalypse provides the imagery from the central crisis of the work, and this propted me to use the number seven as the prime generator of proportions and rhythms throughout. There are, for instance, seven sections, each 28 bars long (4 x 7).

My aim was to reflect the fact that man's psychology and the nature of the cosmos ensure that the catastrophe and peace will always flow in inevitable sequence, that we must feel ourselves at one with and learn to embrace this fact. To this end the music exposes and interweaves two evolving processes A and B. Thus section 1(A) presages disaster, 2 (B) presents a state of motionless peace, 3(A) brings catastrophe at full tide, 4(B) for unaccompanied choir breathes life into peace, 5 for solo organ presents a purely musical comment on all material, 6 and 7 show the two processes in different states of disintegration. The textural layout is planned so that the organ supports the choir in some sections, opposes in others, while both choir and organ have sections to themselves.

A hint at the philosophy behind the work is contained in the following quotations:

Isaiah 28 (xxviii)
Corn is crushed, but not to the uttermost,
not with a final crushing;
his cart wheels rumble over it and break it up,
but they do not grind it fine.

Ecclesiastes 1 (ix)
What has happened will happen again,
and what has been done will be done again,
there is nothing new under the sun.

THE SEA OF GLASS was commissioned by the St Albans Ninth International Organ Festival and first performed at the Cathedral on the 2 July 1977 by the BBC Singers with John Clough (organ) and conducted by John Poole.

Anthony Payne, 1977