Castles in the Sand

Year Composed: 2013
Instrumentation: harp
Duration 15 minutes

I Introduction
II The Shores of Time
III Building Blocks
IV Spires and Turrets
V Cathedrals in the Sand

Audio Excerpts (MP3)

Program Notes

Castles in the Sand was inspired in part by the abundance of truly breathtaking sandcastle images available online (many of which I discovered while sketching musical ideas for this piece) as well as the rich layers of meaning that underlie such a seemingly simple and child-like activity. To build a sandcastle is to make something from nothing; and what’s more, to make it beautiful for the sake of beauty alone. Part of this beauty lies in the short-lived, ephemeral nature of the outcome; like a piece of music, we must transcend common notions of utility in order to appreciate it for what it is.

These admittedly abstract ideas are distilled through the lens of the solo harp, which to me is a truly remarkable instrument, capable of both ethereal resonance and grounded, earthy textures. This fundamental contrast—between the ‘tangible’ simplicity of the everyday and the mysterious complexity of the wondrous—is explored in five short, interconnected movements.

“Introduction” is an aural depiction of sand in its natural state as it is tossed and swept by wind and water, the natural elements that form part of the chaotic substrate from which everything emerges (and must eventually return to.) The second movement, “The Shores of Time,” recalls the memory of an ancient, deserted citadel, eroded by nature and teetering on the edge of ruin—like a sandcastle on a shore. Here, I have tried to capture—thematically and sonically—some of the distant melancholy one associates with abandoned places. The third movement, “Building Blocks,” suggests a child’s attempt at generating order (the sandcastle) out of chaos (the sand.) The abstract musical gestures of the previous movements now begin to coalesce into a lilting lullaby. “Spires and Turrets,” the fourth and most active movement, is about exploratory play and the thrill of creative pursuit; but it is bookended by aggressive ‘gushing chords’ that suggest an equally destructive impulse. The final movement, “Cathedrals in the Sand,” reprises earlier material but casts it in a different light. It is a meditation on the possibility of the sacred and its place in a world defined by impermanence.


  • June 17, 2013 - Angela Schwarzkopf, harp. Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building, University of Toronto, Toronto.
  • November 10, 2013 - Angela Schwarzkopf, harp. Mazzoleni Hall, Glenn Gould School, Toronto.
  • April 27, 2015 - Angela Schwarzkopf, harp. St. George the Martyr, Toronto.

Commissions and Awards

  • Commissioned by Angela Schwarzkopf.

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