Crossing the Bar

Crossing the Bar

8th February 2015 | For Chen Wang
Photography by Caroline Allard

What is it?

Crossing the Bar is a setting of the poem by the same name by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The fifth of the five songs that comprise my song cycle Idylls, it is available in two versions: the first for solo soprano and piano, the second for mixed choir (SATB) and piano. Intensely emotional and yet tranquil, the melody has a distinctly Celtic feel. The piano part mimics with uncanny accuracy the lapping of waves on a beach shoreline. It starts in B-flat major and continues in that key until the words “face to face” in the last verse. At this point the music moves abruptly into D-flat major and the piano drops nearly two octaves. The effect is of a sudden and profound sense of peace “when I have crost the bar”.


Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.


Solo version

played on flute and piano

Choral version

played as an instrumental



Photograph by Caroline Allard

The idea of writing a set of songs for tenor and piano, based on Tennyson’s poems, had first occurred to me in 1986. 'Crossing the Bar' was the first such song to be completed. It appealed to me because of its intensely spiritual overtones and the impressions that it evokes of waves lapping on sand and shingle, which is what inspired the piano introduction. The melody has a Celtic feel to it, because at the end of the day I am Cornish.

I grew up with the sea nine miles to the northwest and seven miles to the southeast. My mother came from St Ives and my father from Penzance. So I know the sea, its rhythms and its moods. This is one of my personal favourites among my compositions, possibly because it is so reminiscent of the place where I grew up. It is simple, soulful and all the more effective for it.

Chen Wang

Chen Wang

Click the link below to go to the relevant shelf in the Shop