Program notes from the premiere:
“Ever since I first discovered Hilda Doolittle’s poetry (pen name, H.D.), I’ve wanted to turn Sea Garden, her first book of poetry, published in 1916, into a song cycle. To that end, I’ve set four poems from the collection. One of its principle themes is the preference for beauty attained through adversity, and nothing demonstrates this as succinctly as the five flower poems, of which Sea Rose is the first.
Rather than the picturesque version of a rose, here she conjures one thrashed by waves, ‘marred and with stint of petals.’ It is because of the ordeal it has endured, the struggle it has had to overcome and the resultant scars, that it is ‘more precious / than a wet rose / single on a stem.’
Accordingly, I infused the piece with harmonies that inhabit a space in between happy or sad, beautiful or ugly, starting with a chain of minor/major seventh chords. Harmonic movement stagnates as the singer describes the rose’s inadequacies: ‘meagre flower, thin, / sparse of leaf.’ Then the vocal melody rises and falls in a series of arcs, charting the path of the rose as it is ‘lifted in the crisp sand / that drives in the wind.'”