As of the present writing, The City In the Sea: Choral Tone Poem had been gestating for over thirty years, and the concept and harmonies for it for over forty years. In the 1980s I began to work with the latter two in my brief orchestral piece Little Sea Nocturne.
When reading poems by Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849), I am most struck by how musical they are. When recited aloud they exhibit their own rhythmic sense. I was eager to incorporate those rhythms into my music.
I had long been familiar with his poem The City In the Sea and began to sketch choral passages for the present choral tone poem in the 1990s. It took me until 2022 to complete it because I required many more years of experience at my craft to do so to lead into out of the choruses. In 2012 I completed a seven-minute unaccompanied version of the choruses with music unique to and unifying it simply called The City In the Sea.
In composing The City In the Sea - Choral Tone Poem, my goal was to write a piece that, while steeped in tradition, sounds unlike anything in the literature that had come before it. The result is an original hybrid work that successfully and memorably combines salient aspects of the tonal, atonal, and modal musical languages into an organic whole.
George Perle coined the term “twelve-tone tonality” to describe the music of Alban Berg and composers influenced by him such as Luigi Dallapiccola. The last title of which I am aware that accomplishes anything remotely related to what I am trying to accomplish musically in this choral tone poem is Paradiso Choruses by Donald Martino (1974). However, I take twelve-tone tonality in entirely other directions in my work.
That the duration of The City In the Sea - Choral Tone Poem came out to be thirteen minutes seems appropriate for piece about a sunken city. Listeners will hear a heartbeat motif accompanying syncopated rhythms in the strings (arpeggios); rhythmic diminutions and augmentations; shifting polychordal harmonies; echo technique between wind and brass choirs foreshadowing the choral entrance; a cappella and accompanied choral passages; homophonic and polyphonic choral passages; a surprisingly memorable recurring theme in the Soprano I line during certain homophonic passages; two flute duets; string section musical underpinnings by way of either sustained passages or wave-like gestures; tritone-related melodies, harmonies, and tone centers; several strategically placed grand pauses; almost modal-sounding passages; chord clusters, two of which are climactic ("Death" [looks gigantically down] and [Hell rising from a thousand] "thrones").
2 Flutes (2. doubles on Piccolo)
2 Oboes (2. doubles on English Horn)
2 B-flat Clarinets
2 F Horns
2 C Trumpets
Percussion (Gong, Bass Drum, Chimes, Glockenspiel)
Accomplished conservatory choruses and orchestras
Professional choruses and orchestras
Link to scrolling score video on YouTube.