For the second movement of the cycle, Give me the nerve, I have composed two lightning-fast rounds that are sung by the four innermost voices in the ensemble. In order to create and relieve tension over the course of the piece, I played with three different levels of canonical delay.
The first melody is sung first in unison, then as a duet (two singers against the other two), and then individually, in very quick succession. The effect is completely wavelike, and a little mesmerizing. For the second melody, I begin with the rapid individual foursome, then move to the duet, and then unison – employing the canons in the opposite order. With this architecture, the most unsettling part of the piece is in the middle, exactly where the sailor’s “prayer” can have its strongest effect. The outer four voices, by the way, sing the same texts as the inner four, just much more slowly, providing a reverent backdrop for the chaos of the stormy four-voice rounds. Here is the complete poem:
Give me the nerve
That never will swerve
Running out on life’s ledges of danger;
Mine, mine be the nerve
That in peril will serve,
Since life is to safety a stranger.
When roaring below
The cataracts go,
And tempests are over me scudding;
Give, give me the calm
That is better than balm,
And the courage that keepeth new-budding.