I. The Marsh; II: Dawn Light; III: Storm; IV: Spiritual Haven

Set to a specially written text by Ben Kaye, The Fifth Continent derives its inspiration from Kent’s Romney Marsh. It has mused the minds of artists since the 1500’s when William Camden’s “Britannia” labelled it as “A Gift from the Sea”.

Consisting of four movements continuously, the work is essentially about the Marsh’s sense of timelessness with its many different moods. Space and physical movement are used as an integral part of the musical structure. A sense of boundless mystery prevails, encompassing a huge range of extremes of ambience, from the dark and austere, to the serene and tranquil via storms of violent winds and high seas.

It starts in a bleak limbo, with the solo countertenor singing whilst walking onstage over a low pedal note with dark growls from the lower brass, the sense of remoteness heightened by offstage trumpets and chorus. As the movement unfolds a creeping mist descends where colours are bleached out, the stars can no longer be a point of reference and “horizons are meaningless”.

In contrast the second movement explores the genesis of a new day, as angular spiky offbeat utterances emerge in a continuous outpouring of ascending phrases that surge upwards to a spiralling triumphal climax as the sun’s rays burn and reveal the magnificent landscape. Out of this splendour the brass takes over in an extended toccata that depicts through cascading scales the relentless surge of the sea. It climaxes in a dramatic storm setting full of sudden twists, as man battles with the harshness of the environment and becomes nature’s plaything!

The finale, an inverted Passacaglia, is a moment of reflection as the sensual harmony in a calm chorale-like setting brings reassurance and spiritual peace. A flowing 6/8 descant line weaves its way through the accompaniment until the material of the first movement is recalled as the performers disperse to far off locations. The choir finally settles on a chord of F major, the music turning full circle back to the work’s opening. But with a crucial difference: the desolation that had permeated the beginning does so no longer.

Text by Ben Kaye


Written 2005

Chorus and Ensemble
For counter tenor (or Mezzo Soprano), Chorus, Brass Ensemble and Organ. Solo Counter tenor/SATB/2Tpt-Hn-Tbn-Tba/Organ
Length 25

Commission: John Armitage Memorial Trust
Publisher: Josef Weinberger

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