horizontal line

We read that Eric Saylor and Christopher M Scheer have wanted jointly to craft a book on this subject since undergraduate days at the university of michigan, 15 years ago. What is remarkable about this realisation of their vision is the involvement of so many academics with US connections. Highly flattering and intriguing (not least as cases emerge of infatuation with the rhythms of BBC shipping forecasts).

This is a collection of one-off essays on all manner of sea-related subjects, grouped in categories: music reflecting the sea as geographical space, as workplace and as metaphor. There’s everything from an examination of the complexities of the relationship between Britten’s music and Aldeburgh (from Scheer) and Jennifer Oates’s close analysis of Bantock’s ‘untamed’ Hebridean symphony, to a rigorous re-evaluation of meanings of Elgar’s Sea Pictures (Charles Edward McGuire) and Eric Saylor’s fascinating placing of Vaughan Williams’s Sea Symphony and Stanford’s Songs of the Fleet within the political, nationalistic and intellectual climate of their day.

Some of the most colourful material comes via the reflections of Amanda Eubanks Winkler and James Brooks Kuykendall on the role of music in Britain’s more distant naval history – from Winkler the ways that music reflected the stuff of sailors’ lives, sex and drink included, but also caricatured ‘Jack Tar’ so as to obscure realities of life at sea (Kuykendall).

In terms of vivid storytelling, nothing in the volume is more captivating than Byron Adams’s lyrical piece on the Lament written by Frank Bridge to memorialise a young girl drowned at the notorious sinking of the Lusitania in 1915; and most especially Frances Wilkins’s brilliant re-telling of the brief history of the singers who relayed (via radio telephony) favourite evangelical hymns to Scottish fishermen in everyday peril on the high seas, until the curmudgeonly bureaucrats had their way – a real surprise and a great tale.

There is all this and much more with a tangy briny flavour. As the price itself suggests, there is inevitably an academic timbre to much of the writing, but rarely intimidatingly so, and outweighed ultimately by the brantub fascination of the range of subject matter.

ANDREW GREEN Read the full review on Agora Classica

   Read full review   

To continue reading, please upgrade to a premium account. You will have immediate full access.

Read more classical music reviews online here:

Classical Music, 2016 - ©Rhinegold Publishing