Sea Fever


William Copper

Choral setting of John Masefield's famous poem for a cappella chorus (SATB)

Louis Untermeyer, in Doorways to Poetry, in a section called "The Ideal Combination", introduced Sea Fever with these words:

"Once the meaning has sunk itself into the mind, it is impossible to forget the lines or to think of them without the rhyme and rhythm which make the 'tune.' Thus music is not an interruption or an addition, but the very heart -- the memory-compelling heart -- of poetry."

School Commission for 2002-2003, all voice parts are suitable for an accomplished high school chorus. Written for the Auburn High School Choirs, Auburn, NY, Steven A. Stomps, Director, the Alpena High School Concert Choir, Alpena, MI, Jeanne Rasmussen, Director, the University of Southern Indiana Chamber Choir, Daniel R. Craig, Director, and the Beloit Memorial High School Choir, Cheryl Licary, Director.

The Sea Songs are appropriate for many concert themes: Thanksgiving, America, Elements, Sea and Air, Spring, and others.

Sea Fever fulfills many of the National Standards for Music Education, without losing a sense of music as pure art form. In particular, Sea Fever is a setting of the entire original version of Masefield's poem, and singing it may help a student observe how the words themselves have a rhythm and a music, and how a composer may follow or challenge the poem's music in vocal music. Sea Fever, first published in 1902, also has historical interest. It was written when the days of tall ships were fading memories, and captures the fascination with the sea and sailing that was part of those days, and which had lasted at least from the time of Christopher Columbus and the Pilgrims.

Note on the text: this setting uses John Masefield's original version of the first line, from Salt Water Ballads. In some later editions this was changed in at least two different ways. It is often found, "I must GO down to the seas again," and sometimes, "I must go down to the SEA again". The first version seemed preferable for setting to music, with its lovely brief hesitation before the first line of each verse sets forth.

1. I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
     And all I ask is a tall ship, and a star to steer her by,
   And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
     And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking. 

2. I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
     Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
   And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
     And the flung spray and the blown spume and the sea gulls crying.

3. I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gipsy life,
     To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife,
   And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow rover,
     And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over. 


Composer: Copper, William (1953 - ) b Lyndhurst, VA USA 
Title: Sea Fever  Opus 74 #2 
Publication: Hartenshield Group, Inc  #0461  (2002) 
Text: Sea-Fever  Poem by John Masefield, published in Salt Water Ballads (1902) 

Score: Octavo sized vocal score, SATB with rehearsal-only piano reduction
       Measure numbers at beginning of each line

Tempo Markings
Length: 146 measures
Duration: about 3:45 
Tempo Changes: rallentando, fermata, fermata, a tempo, ritardando, fermata 

Key Signature: 2 flats
Tonality: Bb major, C major, F major, non-diatonic D/Bb, Bb major
Dynamic Changes: f dim f mf cresc f mf f p mp mf f ff cresc mp p mp p pp 

Accidentals (total count): Soprano  24 
                         : Alto     15
                         : Tenor    26
                         : Bass     13

Range and Tessitura
Text setting: mostly syllabic, longest melisma 3 measures 
Engraving: very clear, standard

Grade Level 3-4  (3.6)  Moderate rhythmic difficulties. 

Rhythmic difficulty example

Editions Available

Copyright 2002 William P. Copper

Other music from the Hartenshield Group that would be suitable for a high school chorus includes The Oubit, The Animal Fair, Pentamic Iambeter, Piano, Knights of Troubled Love, and Flow Forth, Abundant Tears. For a college level chorus, Lovelife Dances and New Lovelife Dances as well as any of the preceding and many of the other works listed in the Choral Works list.

William Copper bio
Choral Music Mailings
Order Form for Printing


Music Publications
The Hartenshield Group Inc
321 Davis Run Road
McDowell, VA 24458


The Oubit
Lovelife Dances
Flow Forth, Abundant Tears
Choral Works List

Enjoy the music!