Sea pictures with Elgar

All of us will have memories associated with the sea. As a wheelchair user, my own have, until recently, been distant ones.

We have been taking our children to Cornwall for the last twenty years. For the last fifteen, each visit has served as a slightly painful yardstick for my MS: ‘I could do this last year, but I can’t now.’ My most frustrating annual realizations were acknowledging that my golfing days with my son were behind me, as were my pathetic attempts at body-boarding with friends and the rest of my family.

If I’m honest, I used to spend more time at the water’s edge, standing in a Duke-of-Edinburgh-like pose with my hands behind my back, gazing out to sea; invariably with something on my feet, because I have this peculiar aversion to sand between my toes and the difficulty of getting rid of it later. What’s that all about?

But this year was different. It was the first time I was able to say “I couldn’t do this last year, but I can now.”

Through the generosity of a private charity, I now have an electric wheelchair which has something of a Heineken effect. From the house we rent, with no other building between us and the sea, I was able to negotiate terrain hitherto inaccessible and wonder at a view I hadn’t seen for over ten years.

That tiny speck in the distance  is me.


And this is what I feasted my eyes and ears on: an expanse of colour and sound which unfolded gradually as my chair edged closer. I felt like a child, experiencing it all for the first time, because I had quite forgotten what I had been missing until it was there in front of me.


It is little wonder that the sea has captured the attention of poets, artists, and musicians. In music there is a wealth of work to convey its mystery and power.

Dame Janet Baker has recently celebrated her 85th birthday and it is high time this blog gave her beautiful and distinctive voice an airing. Edward Elgar, about whom I have written in previous posts (pop Elgar in the Search box for more), wrote his song cycle Sea Pictures in 1894. The most well-known, Where Corals Lie, is a poem by Richard Garnett, beckoning its reader to the sea. It is just a few minutes long, and has this lovely, slightly haunting, melody, coupled with an almost nervous beat. Baker’s rich, dark voice is a perfect fit to both words and music.

Make sure you listen right to the end: I doubt there is a better rendition – and to abandon it early would be to miss the last chord, which is sweetness itself, and one which could so easily have come from the hand of his fellow Englishman, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

‘I must go down to the sea again…’, wrote John Masefield. It is an unfulfilled desire I’ve had for many years, at last accomplished this summer.

Oh, and I even pottered around the golf course with my son, too. So that’s two things I couldn’t do last year, and now can.

Click on the image and picture yourself by the sea.







8 thoughts on “Sea pictures with Elgar”

  1. “Where Corals Lie” was exquisite. I love Elgar and Vaughan Williams, so I sat back and reveled in the music. You pick marvelous things and write about them beautifully. Thank you for doing this.

    I’m so sorry you have MS. I have a distant friend with it, and I grieve with her when another ability fades. Your new wheelchair is fantastic. It’s wonderful that you were able to roll to the seaside and around the golf course.


  2. What a delight to listen to that recording Nick. Once again you have dragged me back nearly 60 years when Dame Janet and Heather Harper regularly sang with the LPO. My poor singing teacher tried in vain to teach me Where Corals Lie but I never really touched the surface of it. Also that is great news of your new wheelchair.


  3. Such heartfelt writing with such beautiful music. A real treat which I enjoyed thanks to Jane and her mama who told me about it. I try and read most of your Manuscript Notes but this one had escaped me.


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