Calm Sea & Prosperous Voyage…

is a cantata for chorus and orchestra composed by Ludwig van Beethoven (op. 112), based on verses by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and dedicated to him. Beethoven knew and loved Goethe’s poetry, as did Mendelssohn, Schubert, and numerous lesser composers who were also inspired by this pair of poems.

The poet Goethe was becalmed at sea on a voyage from Sicily to Naples in 1787. As his ship was passing the Isle of Capri, the wind died, leaving the vessel unable to make way against a treacherous current carrying it toward the cliffs of the island’s southern shore. The captain sent out a longboat with rowers to tow the ship out of danger, but the attempt failed because the current was so strong. The panic-stricken passengers knelt on the deck, wailing and praying for deliverance, while the crew seized oars and poles in a desperate effort to hold the ship off the rocks as long as they possibly could. Practically at the last second, a breeze sprang up and shipwreck was averted.

Goethe published his short poem Meeresstille (“Becalmed at Sea” is a better translation than the more literal “Calm Sea”) in 1795. He paired it with the contrasting poem Glückliche Fahrt, expressing profound relief as the wind rises, the crew springs into action, and the ship gets under way once more. Anxiety becomes activity, and prayer with a song of thanksgiving as the bindings of fear are loosed!

Click this link to enjoy my favorite, Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage

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