Mount’s Bay

for unaccompanied mixed choir

Ian Stephens

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for unaccompanied mixed choir

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Composer Ian Stephens
Year of Composition 2020
Duration ca.7'

Categories (all composers) , ,
Catalogue ID ce-is1mb1


Commissioned by my father Nicholas Stephens for Camerata Kernow and their director Nigel Wicken.

The Penzance-born chemist and inventor Humphrey Davy (1778-1829) wrote poetry throughout his life. I have set the first portion of his ‘Extract from an Unfinished Poem On Mount’s Bay’, which was published in 1799. In this poem Davy alludes to the forest that used to cover the sands around St Michael’s Mount, but which was overwhelmed by the sea in early medieval times. Near Marazion, on the mainland close to St Michael’s Mount, storms sometimes shift the sands to reveal blackened ancient tree-trunks, remnants of this ancient forest. The Cornish name for St Michael’s Mount is Karrek Loos y’n Koos, which means Grey Rock in the Wood.

I wrote Mount’s Bay during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, and in writing it I’ve been transported to far west of Cornwall, to the unpredictable waters of Mount’s Bay, far from my home in the north-west of England. The choir I wrote it for, Camerata Kernow, often performs at St Mary’s Church in Penzance, close to the birthplace of Humphrey Davy, and from where St Michael’s Mount can be seen over the bay.

Mount’s Bay takes about seven minutes to perform.

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Mild blows the Zephyr o’er the Ocean dark,
The Zephyr wafting the grey twilight clouds
Across the waves, to drink the solar rays
And blush with purple. 

By the orient gleam
Whitening the foam of the blue wave that breaks
Around his granite feet, but dimly seen,
Majestic Michael rises.

He whose brow
Is crown’d with castles, and whose rocky sides
Are clad with dusky ivy: he whose base,
Beat by the storm of ages, stands unmoved
Amidst the wreck of things, the change of time.

That base encircled by the azure waves,
Was once with verdure clad: the tow’ring oaks
There waved their branches green, – the sacred oaks
Whose awful shades among, the Druids stray’d
To cut the hallow’d miseltoe, and hold
High converse with their Gods.

On yon rough crag,
Where the wild Tamarisk whistles to the sea blast,
The Druid’s harp was heard, swept by the breeze
To softest music, or to grander tones
Awaken’d by the awful master’s hand.

Those tones shall sound no more! the rushing waves,
Raised from the vast Atlantic, have o’erwhelm’d
The sacred groves.

And deep the Druids lie
In the dark mist-clad sea of former time.