• Judith Weir
  • Storm (1997)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the CBSO

  • 3fl(2pic,afl)3perc3vc
  • SSAA+children's chorus
  • 20 min
  • Judith Weir
  • Shakespeare
  • English

Programme Note

Given the opportunity to write music for children's chorus and women's voices, I thought carefully about choosing words to sing which would especially suit the particular sound of these two ensembles. The light, airy, spacious world of Shakespeare's play The Tempest soon came to mind.

Of course, numerous composers have written incidental music for the play, and some of its songs, for instance "Where the bee sucks, there suck I" have been set perhaps more times than any other non-religious text. In addition, the play frequently mentions music in metaphorical ways, and it is little wonder that it has constantly fascinated musicians.
But for me as a theatregoer, the heroes of the play are not so much Prospero, Miranda and the other named characters, as the elements of The Tempest's natural environment: sea, wind, waves, air, and beyond that, magic and the spirit world. In fact, I have often wished that I could see a production of this play with no actors in it; and Storm is perhaps the soundtrack of that production, performed in a concert hall. I began by making my own 35-word version of of the plot of The Tempest, as follows:

'There is a storm at sea; some travellers are shipwrecked. (The storm was caused by magic.) Charmed by a spirit, they meet their long-lost relatives. Through the exercise of mercy, their ancient quarrels are healed.'

Using associated texts from the play (some of which, particularly the opening storm scene, I have shortened) I then wrote a narrative sequence of five movements:
1. Storm/Shipwreck; 2. Charm; 3. Magic; 4. Spirit; 5. Mercy.

The total duration of the piece is about twenty minutes.

The choruses are accompanied by an ensemble of nine players: three flutes, three cellos, three percussionists. The choice of flutes was an obvious one, mirroring the play's permanent concern with air and wind. The extensive percussion section features many simple metal and wooden objects which, I think sound like the kind of things that could have been washed up on a beach.

One section of Storm already existed before I began work on the whole composition; this was an earlier setting of the words "Our revels now are ended". It was written in memory of Stephen Baldwin, who died in an air crash at the age of 31. Without the encouragement of Stephen's mother, Sylvia Collins, to set this text, I would never had the nerve to lay my impious hands of the works of William Shakespeare.

STORM was written for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's two youth choruses, and first performed by them in Symphony Hall, Birmingham in 1998. The conductor was Simon Halsey.

Judith Weir


1. STORM

My heart! Cheerly!
Take in the sail
Down with the mast,
Lower, lower!
Lay her ahold
Set her two courses
Off to sea again
Lay her off! Let's all sink!
The washing of ten tides…….

1a. SHIPWRECK

Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea
For an acre of barren ground.
Long heath, brown furze, anything!
The wills above be done,
But I would fain die a dry death.

2. CHARM

While you here do snoring lie
Open-eyed conspiracy
His time doth take.
If of life you keep a care,
Shake off slumber and beware,
Awake, awake!

3. MAGIC

Ye elves of hills, lakes, standing lakes and groves,
And ye that on the sands with printless foot
Do chase the ebbing Neptune and do fly him
When he comes back; you demi-puppets that
By moonshine do the green sour ringlets make,
Whereof the ewe not bites; and you whose pastime
Is to make midnight mushrooms, that rejoice
To hear the solemn curfew…. I have bedimmed
The noontide sun…. graves at my command
Have waked their sleeper, opened, let them forth.

4. SPIRIT

Our revels now are ended. These, our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and are melted into air, into thin air.
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself.
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve………………..
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

5. MERCY

Though the seas threaten, they are merciful.
I have cursed them without cause.
O wonder!

© Judith Weir

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