Calm is the Sea


Music: Heinrich Pfeil 1835 - 1899, English words: John Guard
A beautiful choral classic evoking romantic images of the fishing village, a staple in the male voice choir repertoire over many years.

Calm is the Sea


Male voice choir enthusiasts in the British Isles and beyond have a long tradition of constantly looking for, commissioning and introducing new music and modern arrangements of popular songs from solo artists to the repertoire, in order to be able to continue to offer something different and keep the genre up to date for new generations. At the same time it has been important to recognise and retain within the programme, those pieces of music which have become synonymous with male voice choirs and classics in their own right, having their origins in the very foundation of the male voice choir tradition, in small rural and mining communities more than a century ago. This article describes one such beautiful classic composition which has stood the test of time and has been for decades a firm favourite with both choristers and audiences alike. It includes some detail about its origins and a brief biography of its composer.
       The piece takes the melody from a German folk song "Still Ruht Der See", with music and original words composed by Heinrich Pfeil (1850 - 1899). It was given new English lyrics by John Guard in the early decades of the 20th century and became an instant hit with British male voice choirs and choral societies. Although the sentiments expressed in the original and the alternative English versions are similar, the setting is quite different. The original German romanticises a lakeside at twilight and its flora and fauna, whilst the English words change the location to a quiet seaside fishing village.
       It's interesting to speculate about the relocation, there is no reason to believe that the change was anything other than deliberate, but ........ The German has two words for the sea, "die See" and "das Meer", the lake translates as "der See", the two are distinguished merely by the gender in the definite article and of course the context.

Calm is the Sea - English words by John Guard

Calm is the sea, No wand'ring breezes
Disturb the stillness of the deep:
The twilight slowly darkens o'er us,
And lulls the weary world to sleep,
And lulls the weary world to sleep.

Calm is the sea, The tide advancing
Upon the strand in silence steals:
A silence fills the little harbour,
And lifts and moves the fisher keels,
And lifts and moves the fisher keels.

Calm is the sea, The lights of heaven
Are shining on its quiet breast:
O troubled heart! The love eternal
Looks down on thee, believe and rest,
Looks down on thee, believe and rest.

Heinrich Pfeil, Newspaper Editor, Composer and Musician, 1835 - 1899
Born in Leipzig, Germany, Heinrich Pfeil was the son of a printer, he attended the Ratsfreischule in Leipzig where he studied music under teacher Carl Friedrich Zöllner, becoming familiar with choral music, particularly folksongs and the harmonious singing style of local amateur choirs, from an early age. After school he was apprenticed to a bookseller and then worked for the "Leipziger Stadt und Dorfanzeiger" newspaper, which he also edited between 1884 and 1889. From 1890 he lived in Glauchau, where he published the "Glauchauer Zeitung" newspaper, before returning to his hometown of Leipzig in 1896. Always active as a composer and writer, he wrote both music and lyrics of many songs, some of which became very popular, appealing to a wide audience. In 1862 he took over the editorship of the "Sängerhalle", the official newspaper of the German Singers' Association, a post which he held until 1887. In addition to the "Sängerhalle" he also published a "Musicians' Notebook" and other miscellaneous works in the same vein.

Still ruht der See - Words and Music by Heinrich Pfeil 1835 - 1899

Still ruht der See, die Vöglein schlafen,
Ein Flüstern nur, du hörst es kaum.
Der Abend naht, nun senkt sich nieder
Auf die Natur ein süßer Traum.
Auf die Natur ein süßer Traum.

Still ruht der See, durch das Gezweige
Der heilge Odem Gottes weht.
Die Blümlein an dem Seegestade,
Sie sprechen fromm ihr Nachtgebet.
Sie sprechen fromm ihr Nachtgebet.

Still ruht der See, vom Himmelsdome
Die Sterne friedsam niedersehn.
O Menschenherz, gib dich zufrieden,
Auch du, auch du wirst schlafen gehn.
Auch du, auch du wirst schlafen gehn.

A Literal Translation
The lake is still, the birds are asleep
Just a whisper, you hardly hear
The evening nears, now sinks lower
Into nature's sweet dream.

The lake is still, through the branches
Blows the holy breath of God
The flowers on the lakeshore
Speak piously their evening prayer.

The lake is still, from the heavens
The stars look peacefully down
Oh human heart be contented
You too also will go to sleep.

Palfreyman - January 2022

Further Reading

Richmond Hill Dairies - Pemberton - These pages contain some personal memories from my youth and my association with Richmond Hill Dairies, a local business I grew up with and remember with some affection. A well known and important feature of the local community in its day and part of the heritage of Pemberton, this is my attempt to commit some small snapshot of its history to print, I hope these pages paint a worthy picture.

Mind Your Language - A humorous poem by "the bard of Haydock" George Anderton, inspired by memories of a trip to Bad Canstatt, Stuttgart Germany with the Haydock Male Voice Choir in 1975. This publication will bring a smile to the faces of not only those members who were there at the time and know the people involved but the wider population of Haydock as well who speak the language.

Wigan and the American Civil War - Wigan Coal and Iron Company, The Right Honourable John Lancaster MP for Wigan, the Confederate Raider Alabama, USS Kearsarge, Cherbourg and the yacht Deerhound all feature in the last great sea battle of the American Civil War.

Wigan Old Bank 1792 - A tragic boating accident on Windermere and a surprising journey through the social history of Wigan during the reign of Queen Victoria, highlighting the relationships between four families who played an important part in the commercial development of the town.

The Brocklebank LineDaniel Brocklebank (1741-1801), shipbuilder and mariner, a brief biography, and some background detail of his family and the shipping line he founded.

Little Ships at ZeebruggeAn account of a heroic attempt to block the port of Zeebrugge during the first World War, to protect supply routes into the UK by denying enemy submarines based there access to the open sea.

A Cricket Calypso - A short biopic of cricketer Cyril Washbrook and a snapshot of his career including his role in the West Indies tour of 1950 recorded in the lyrics of the Cricket Calypso.

Not Much of a Warrior - Wigan RLFC in the fifties and sixties, through rose coloured glasses. A golden age of legendary players and memorable moments, along with some personal memories.

picFarthingale Publications:... Is a hobby web site containing articles of local interest to Lancastrians, some favourite walking and cycling routes, selected words and poetry, and some writings of more general nature as well as the authors own picture gallery. Access is available via the homepage and menu at the head of the page.

picLocal Interest: Richmond Hill Dairies; Mind Your Language; John Lancaster Wigan MP; Thomas Aspinwall Miners Agent; Thomas Aspinwall Obituary; Upholland Telephone Exchange; Thomas Linacre School Wigan; Scot Lane School Wigan; The Lindsays of Haigh; Dust Upon God's Fair Earth; The Nurburgring 1960; Wigan Advertisements 1960; Wigan Soldier Missing in Action; It's a Funny Life; Private Thomas Whitham VC; Isaac Watts 1674 - 1748; Wigan Old Bank 1792; The Brocklebank Line; John Byrom 1692 - 1793; The Holy City Liverpool; Jubilee Park Memorial, Ashton in Makerfield; Little Ships at War 1918; A Cricket Calypso; Not Much of a Warrior; Peveril of the Peak.

Walking & Cycling: Moss Eccles Tarn; Abbey Lakes to Coppull Moor; Chorley Ice Cream Walk; Douglas Valley Dawdle; Three Counties Cycle Ride; Haigh to Borsdane Wood; A Lancshire Lineaer Walk; Blackrod or Bust; Cycle the Sankey Valley; Cycle the Monsal Trail; Wigan Circular by Bike; Freshfield to Crosby; Irwell Valley Trail (Bury to Rawtenstall); Irwell Valley (Bury to Salford).

Words & Poetry: The Heart of Midlothian; The Family Man; The Pickwick Papers; The Fair Rosamond; The Fair Rosamond Comic; The Wreck of the Hesperus; God Bless these Poor Wimmen that's Childer; Dombey and Son; Aw've Turned me bit O' Garden O'er; On Th' Hills; Four Favourite Poems; The Darkling Thrush; The Glory of the Garden; The Rolling English Road; The Antiquary; Hymn Before Action; Dust upon God's Fair Earth; Mind Your Language; Jeff Unsworth's dialect poetry; Martyrs of the Arena; Th' Coartin' Neet; Boat Song; Toddlin Whoam; A Lancashire Mon.

Wallgate Chronicles: Hugo Boss comes to Wigan; In the footsteps of the Manchester Rambler; Fun with Trigonometry; Surprise at the Philharmonic; The Marriage of Figaro; Cat Bells; A Walk in the Hills; Eay Times Uv Changed; Fidelio; The Ravioli Room; Desert Island Discs; Travels in Time; The Spectroscope; The Bohemian Girl; Bookcase; Barnaby Rudge; Romance on a Budget; The Battle of Solferino; The Getaway Car; The Switchroom Wigan; The Force of Destiny; Adolphe Adam; The Fair Maid of Perth; Ivanhoe; Semele; Lohengrin.

picLyme Hall, Disley, CheshireFurther Links:
Wigan Advertisements - 1960
Vulcan Foundry; Trustee Savings Bank; Battye & Sons;   Walker Brothers;  Bradley's Schoolwear;  Pendlebury's/Wiend Press;    James Lowe;  JJB Sports;  Bridge and Sons;  Worsley Mesnes Ironworks;  Sutcliffe Speakman - Leigh.

Upholland Telephone Exchange c1963
A new era in the history of Upholland as the village transistions from a manual telephone exchange in Parliament Street to a modern (for the sixties) Strowger automatic system, with subscriber trunk dialling in Church Street.