The Turn of the Tide

For orchestra, children’s chorus and young instrumentalists/composers


25 minutes


Opus 155

… another Song of the Earth in which amateur and professional musicians are meant to combine in making an artistic statement about the perils of continued environmental pollution.



Commissioned by Association of British Orchestras The following orchestra gave performances in spring 1993 within the Association of British Orchestras National Education Project: Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, BB





2 flutes (2nd+ doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in E flat (2nd + doubling bass clarinet), 2 bassoons (2nd + doubling contrabassoon), 2 horns in F, 2 trumpets in C, #2 tenor trombones, #bass trombone, #tuba, *percussion (3 players), timpani, #harp; #celesta; strings
*percussion (3 players for large orchestra version): bell tree, glockenspiel, marimba, 4 suspended cymbals, #3 wood blocks, #tenor drum, 4 temple blocks, #tam-tam, bass drum, side drum
# These instruments are not required for chamber orchestra version
Young children’s’ chorus

Five groups of young instrumentalists – school children who compose their own music to be inserted in the ‘windows’ provided

The Turn of the Tide may be given either with large orchestra, or in an alternative scoring for chamber orchestra. The work is designed to accommodate the pupil-performers composing and performing their own music, sitting in groups between the sections of the orchestra. It may also be performed in a concert version without children’s instrumental groups, but retain the final chorus. In this case the Inset and bars marked in the score should be omitted.


1. First Life
2. Creation Established – Life Flourishes
3. (Each group of five instrumentalists chooses a subject to illustrate musically the flourishing of a part of nature)
4. (Each group now studies the break-down procedures of Movement 5 and relates them to its own contribution to Movement 3)
5. The Worst that Could Happen – The Corruption and Dissolution of All Nature Completed
6. The Warning is Heeded – Nature Reborn


Composer Notes

The Turn of the Tide was written for the Association of British Orchestras with the specific request that the music I wrote for professional players should include spaces for young musicians to fill out with their own work. Although I have composed works for young people to perform, and have encouraged and supervised young composers’ workshops, this project presented a new and different challenge.

I chose an environmental theme. This is something very much in the forefront of my mind at home in Orkney, where the oil tanker disaster such as happened in Shetland is an ever present possibility, and where the local population has made its views against the mining of uranium in the islands very clear.

I have provided music which can be regarded as a catalyst to the composition of further music, based on mine, where my contribution is very flexible. This can be extensive or brief, depending upon circumstances, and governed by the length and complexity of what the young people produce. Furthermore, I have provided two versions, one for full symphony orchestra, and one for a modest chamber orchestra, and there is an optional chorus at the end. All my music in The Turn of the Tide is based upon very plain building blocks material, infinitely adaptable for young people, but I hope stimulating and inspiring enough for concentrated development and transformation.

This is a creation story, with a difference.

There are six main sections.

The first of these, First Life, has five subsections:
1. The creation of underwater plants
2. The creation of plants on land
3. The creation of the first sea creatures
4. The creation of birds
5. Mammals, and the first people

After each of these subsections, the youngsters make their own quite specific contribution to the creation story; each performance will clearly have different music, with different sources of inspiration, and different titles.

The second section, Creation Established – Life Flourishes, is for the professional orchestra, and its five subsections demonstrate certain compositional techniques which the young people might or might not take up and develop:
1 The underwater plants flourish (addition of instrumental part, and variation by decoration)
2. The trees flourish (change of meaning through harmonic change)
3. The prosperity of fish (development – a sonata)
4. Bird migration (transformation – change of contour)
5. Instinct and intellect in mammal and mankind (transformation – magic square)

In the third section, each of the five groups of young musicians involved chooses a subject to demonstrate musically the flourishing of a part of nature, using the given materials and techniques if possible, to ensure some kind of overall unity.

For the fourth section, each of the five school groups will study the breakdown procedures of the fifth section, and relate this to section three, including elements of improvisation.

Section five, for the professionals, with additions from the youngsters, is entitled The Worst that Could Happen – The Corruption and Dissolution of All Nature Completed. Here, disasters to nature are expressed by precise musical procedures:
1. The sea plants are poisoned (decoration so profuse it smothers the material)
2. The trees are suffocated (harmonic change so dense the chords are obliterated)
3. The fish are deformed and cannot function (a sonata development that fragments material beyond repair)
4. The birds fall from the sky (transformation of contour which reduces the line to one repeated note only)
5. Hubris triumphant (the magic square becomes a block of dissonant intervals)

The final sixth section is entitled The Warning is Heeded – Nature Reborn. The decline is reversed, and professionals, young instrumentalists, and a chorus join together for a triumphant dance of all creation.

May tides turn bright! Pure salt spangles, spin-drift glint
A-shimmer through the mirrored spread
Of scatheless cirrus sky.
May reborn woodlands spangles shadow
Safeguard night-jar, fawn and fox May wild-cat stalk again.

May lichen flourish on the stone,
Where wheatfields mottled gold and green,
Make waves, unsullied as the sea.

May we who hesitate here on the edge,
Turn to join the round of all Nature’s dance.
Let’s not hesitate any longer,
For time’s running out on us
Till we join in the dance.
Nature’s help-mates, certain of our right place,
Nature’s servants, certain of all the right steps in the dance.
In tune with all Nature’s creation,
In step, in time with the whole of creation,
In step, in time, in tune with all creation.

p>For the sake of our children,
And our children’s children,
May resolve be firm, immutable evergreen,
Our hallowed trust – evergreen.

Programme Notes

Short Note by Paul Griffiths

The task: to write a piece that could involve children as players, singers and composers alongside a professional symphony or chamber orchestra. The solution: a peace-cry for the biosphere, in which the collaborative nature of the enterprise is a metaphor for a wished-for human enlightenment to the ways of the natural world. Davies provides five musical elements and five ways of development, and uses these to illustrate five branches of life on earth: water-plants, trees, fish, birds and mammals (including man). There is a space for answers from children’s instrumental groups, and then a larger space in which the children can develop the given ideas, perhaps with members of the orchestra. Davies returns as composer to depict creation turned sour. Finally everyone comes together with a unison hymn, with orchestra and instrumental groups, celebrating the turn of the tide.


… another Song of the Earth in which amateur and professional musicians are meant to combine in making an artistic statement about the perils of continued environmental pollution.


First Performance

Lightfoot Centre, Newcastle (at the Association of British Orchestras Conference)

Friday, 12 February 1993

Northern Sinfonia