Full Fathom Five

SATB, divisi, unaccompanied

A rich, deep, underwater slow-motion feeling is the basis this setting this famous song exploring the nature of memory from “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare. It is more easily sung with a medium to large ensemble. Recording by Seattle Pro Musica.

Reginald Unterseher ยท Full Fathom Five, Reginald Unterseher
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When our loved ones are gone, our memories are what remain. But while those memories may appear to be frozen in place, they slowly change. This passage from THE TEMPEST uses undersea images to explore the process of that change. While the term “sea-change” usually refers to the sudden and complete changes that happen on the surface, it takes on a different meaning for me when we look to the sea floor. Molecule by molecule, micro-organism by micro-organism, our substance moves out into the surroundings, but yet the image remains. The shape is the same, we see the image in our memory, but it is not the actual thing anymore. This is a slow movement, at some point we can see that the memory has become something entirely different than the reality was, but isn’t all experience filtered one way or another? How do we know which one is more true, our perception of now or our memory?


The tempo should be very slow, as close to the marked tempo as possible while still retaining the phrase shape and direction. Stagger breathing techniques are a must. The words should remain very clear, but the sound should be as if it were coming from a great distance. The rhythms derive entirely from the speech patterns.


William Shakespeare, THE TEMPEST, Act 1 scene ii

Full fathom five thy father lies
Of his bones are coral made
Those are pearls that were his eyes
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them.
Ding-dong, bell.