Lakeside Arts
Part of University of Nottingham
Lakeside Arts

blue green ocean on white sands


With restrictions of movement meaning that we're spending an increasing amount of time at home, we're all looking for new things to do and different ways to stay entertained during this period of confinement. Music is one thing that a lot of people are turning to. Its ability to embody a range of emotions and to connect to all of us on different levels makes it a comfort during these uncertain times. Join Head of Music Programmes, Dr Catherine Hocking, each week as she shares a selection of some of her favourite pieces.

Living in Nottingham we’re about as far away from the coast as it is possible to be in the UK. I grew up by the sea and have lived in easy distance of coastlines until I moved to the UK, so I miss the sound of waves – sometimes surf crashing, other times gently folding on to the beach. Walking along a sandy beach or a rocky headland contemplating (or thinking of nothing at all), perhaps craning to see what is beyond the ocean horizon and distant lands is an experience to treasure.

The sea has long been an inspiration for poets, writers, artists and composers. There are myriads of musical examples but these few, including some perhaps lesser known gems, may resonate with those yearning to be near the sea once again.


John Ireland was inspired to set John Masefield’s poem Sea Fever from his Salt-Water Ballades by the seas around the Channel Islands which he loved. The song topped a BBC poll in the 1930s as the most popular song of any genre.


Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony for soprano and baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra was his first major work. Composed for the Leeds Festival in 1910 the changing moods of the sea are wonderfully captured in the orchestration which was undoubtedly influenced by his studies with Ravel in Paris in the winter of 1907/8. Setting some of Walt Whitman’s poems from Leaves of Grass, the first movement brilliantly conveys the sense ‘of waves spreading and spreading, far as the eye can reach’.  The University Choir and Philharmonia performed the work at the Albert Hall, Nottingham in 2014 with soloists Susanna Fairbairn and Alex Ashworth.


Ravel composed the five-movement suite Miroirs in 1905 dedicating each of the movements to one of the members of Les Apaches, a group of artists, writers and composers who regarded themselves as ‘artistic outcasts’ who met informally in Paris to discuss ideas and perform their new works. Une barque sure l’océan  (a small boat on the ocean) was dedicated to the painter Paul Sordes. This performance is by Bertrand Chamayou from his acclaimed recording of Ravel: Complete Works for Solo Piano. 

Bertrand Chamayou performed a memorable concert of Liszt and Liszt arrangements of Wagner in the Djanogly Recital Hall in 2018. 


I wasn’t familiar with the Swedish composer Gösta Nystroem when contralto Claudia Huckle suggested a selection of his Songs by the Sea for her recital with Simon Lepper at Lakeside earlier this year. I have enjoyed discovering more of his gorgeous music several of which draw inspiration from seascapes, including his tone poem Ishavet (The Arctic Ocean). The Nocturne from Songs by the Sea evokes a beach scene at night lit by the moon over the sea. 


To finish, another piece by Peter Sculthorpe, Sea Chant from his Little Suite.

See more of Dr Hocking's playlists on our #InWithLakeside page.