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Composed: 2022

Length: c. 13 minutes

Orchestration: flute (=piccolo), oboe, clarinet (=bass clarinet), bassoon (=contrabassoon), horn, trumpet, 2 trombones (2nd=bass trombone), percussion (1: vibraphone, rainstick, large tom-tom, large suspended cymbal, ocean drum; 2: xylophone, glockenspiel, crotales, medium suspended cymbal, ocean drum, snare drum, bass drum, tam-tam, coins, glass mason jar, guiro, small triangle), prepared piano, and strings

About this Piece

all around the sea blazed gold takes its title from the prelude to Virginia Woolf’s experimental novel The Waves. Throughout the novel, six narrators weave their way from childhood to adulthood, their increasingly intertwined dialogues separated by nine interludes depicting a coastal scene from sunrise to sunset. There are many things I love about The Waves that pique my sonic imagination, from its evocative language to a form that seems to fold over itself while also progressing through time, so it has been the source of inspiration for several pieces of mine over the years.  

In all around the sea blazed gold, I focused on the imagery of Woolf’s coastal interludes, which begin at dawn, when “the sea was indistinguishable from the sky, except that the sea was slightly creased as if a cloth had wrinkles in it,” and patiently documents the uniformity of near-darkness transforming into an abundance of detail. I wanted to borrow this trajectory [for] my own piece, which begins with a very open sound world that gradually is saturated with more and more polyphony. While the six narrators in The Waves begin as distinct voices and gradually conglomerate into one, the instruments in my piece begin as a unified sonic body and [then] fragment into soloists.   

Since the ocean is a bit of a thematic staple of 20th- and 21st-century music, I also couldn’t resist “text painting” some of Woolf’s descriptions of the sea, so you’ll hear ocean drums and rain sticks and crotales dipped in water in the percussion, rolling breezes in the breath tones of winds and brass players, wave-like surges in the strings, and many other instrumental interpretations of the ocean’s eternal song.” —Katherine Balch