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Opus 87
Daybreak at Sea

Written in 1933, this setting of Michael McKenna's poem is evocative of dawn in a seascape. The choir sings unaccompanied in six parts.

About this work


Michael McKenna

The work was dedicated posthumously to the young poet Michael McKenna (1910-1931). Michael was the son of Reginald McKenna (1863-1943), Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer in Asquith's government during 1915-16.

Michael was a not only a poet but also a keen musician. In March 1931, a party of sixteen undergraduates from Trinity College, Cambridge (the Trinity Madrigal Club) went out to Sweden to sing English part-songs and madrigals under the auspices of the Anglo-Swedish Society. Michael was mainly responsible for the musical direction, taking the rehearsals and acting as conductor.

Soon after this exhausting trip to Sweden Michael fell ill, and this illness was to stay with him for the last six months of his life. Michael's early death occurred three days after an investigative operation for an internal haemorrhage. His mother Pamela compiled and had printed a memorial volume which contains an introduction to Michael's poems by Ralph Hodgson. This revealing and honest passage reads:

  "In spite of his outward gaiety and abounding love of fellowship, Michael was always a stranger here and grew up less and less at home in the world; he had no place with us, no foothold here, nor wished for any. Latterly he clouded, and knew it, alas!"

Michael McKenna

Michael McKenna
frontispiece from his memorial volume

Following Michael's death, Cyril Rootham wrote from Cambridge to Michael's mother (quoted in the memorial volume):

  "Michael had done so much in his short life and many of us realise what his departure will mean to his friends and how immeasurably greater the loss to his own nearest and dearest. Some may blame us here for allowing him to give us so freely of his talents: but I believe that you will not; for he was obviously happy in helping us, in doing what he did so well, and his memory will live in his young artistic triumphs, as in other ways."

And in the same year as this work was composed, Cyril Rootham also wrote and dedicated to Pamela McKenna opus 88 "Suite for Pianoforte". CBR's son Jasper (also born in 1910) was an undergraduate at St John's College and member of the CUMS orchestra when Michael McKenna was at Trinity. We know from Michael's correspondence that the two families were linked by the ties of music.


Publication status

The sheet music for Rootham's "Daybreak at Sea" is published by OUP Archive and can be ordered as catalogue no OCS758 through Presto Classical. The work is intended to be sung unaccompanied, but the OUP edition provides a piano part for practice purposes.

Daybreak at Sea: OUP Archive OCS758

Daybreak at Sea
OUP Archive OCS758