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Beach burial : for SATB choir (with divisions) and piano

by John Nottle (2015)

Beach burial


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Beach burial : SATB (with divisions) and piano / John Nottle ; text by Kenneth Slessor.

Library shelf no. 782.5542/NOT 2 [Available for loan]

Work Overview

During WW II Kenneth Slessor became Australia's Official War Correspondent in the Middle East. The defining second Battle of El Alamein, in the Gulf of Arabs (Arab Gulf-Khalij el-Arab خليج العرب), enabled the Allies to begin the defeat of Axis powers in Africa. The Australian 9th Division played a major role in this 'little blue'. Kenneth Slessor's 'Beach Burial' concerns the harrowing loss of life that occurred at sea as a result of this conflict. The poem is original in concept. It breaks the conventional war poem structure, dispensing with the celebration of heroes and heroic deeds. It is not judgemental, and does not demonstrate nationalistic or patriotic fervour, even though it's now recognised as an important Australian war poem and considered, alongside Five Bells, as one of Slessor's finest works. From the eerily hushed sounds and repetitive rhythms at the beginning to the ghost-like and shockingly confronting ending, the poem tells its story in sombre and realistic terms. It creates an intense emotional reaction in the listener. My composition, 'Beach Burial' for choir and piano, is 'through-composed' thereby reflecting the poem's narrative qualities. I have also used rhythms within the choral writing that I imagine may approximate those of Australian speech patterns of the 1940s. The piano writing attempts to convey a poetic interpretation of Slessor's wonderful poem, beginning with an impression of early morning waves softly lapping at the seashore, invoking the 4th line of the first verse. And ending in a brief, contemplation on the heavy loss of life as a result of the El-Alamein sea battles. Battles that, like all battles, ultimately serve to unite all dead warriors in a merciful after-life.

Work Details

Year: 2015

Instrumentation: SSAATTBB choir, piano.

Duration: 4 min.

Difficulty: Advanced — The choral writing is essentially homophonic and tonal. The piano part requires an accomplished pianist.

The composer notes:
The choral writing is essentially homophonic and tonal. The piano writing is more of a commentary on the poem rather than a simple accompaniment, therefore it is somewhat more harmonically complex. The rolled chords throughout the work should at all times be tasteful and not overstated. Pedalling is at the discretion of the pianist, and should be perceptive. As such the piano writing requires an accomplished pianist.


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