Written for the Trinity Laban chamber choir, Drowning Songs for unaccompanied SATB chamber choir was commissioned for a programme of nautical-themed works including Judith Bingham’s Salt in the Blood and Richard Rodney Bennett’s Full Fathom Five.
It is an evocation of the experience of drowning and a remembrance of those who have drowned. The text consists of a fragment of the psalm De Profundis, the names of some of the seamen listed as drowned in circumstances other than shipwreck in the British Merchant Navy records for the period between July 1881 and June 1882, and additional text devised by the composer.
The opening of the piece draws on a description of bodies sinking down through deep water, “falling like dolls”, given in the book All the Drowned Sailors by Raymond B. Lech. Depth and the action of the waves are recurring ideas throughout the piece, with the recurrence of the opening gesture and the susurration of whispered and spoken names of sailors rising and falling.
Preview the score of Drowning Songs (click on the score to open full-screen):