Not only was this aural seascape one of Frank Bridge's most successful works, but it was the piece that "knocked sideways" the 10-year-old Benjamin Britten, who would go on to study with Bridge and champion his music. The Sea, however, is a plush late Romantic score not really characteristic of Bridge's fully mature, more austere music. To a degree, it can be confused with such Arnold Bax oceanic tone poems as Garden of Fand, Tintagel, and On the Sea-Shore.
Of the first movement, Bridge wrote, "Seascape paints the sea on a summer morning. From high drifts is seen a great expanse of waters lying in the sunlight. Warm breezes play over the surface." Fragments of a harmonically vague theme float through the orchestra, then come together into a broad melody that surges to an early climax. The music repeatedly swells and recedes through the course of this movement, relying on colorful woodwind solos in the quiet sections and full string and brass proclamations for the grander statements.
"Sea-foam," wrote Bridge, "froths among the low-lying rocks and pools on the shore, playfully not stormy." This is a brief, mercurial scherzo, with quicksilver little woodwind solos weaving their repeated notes through fuller orchestral material, most notably a broad horn passage.
Third comes the slow movement, "Moonlight," which Bridge described as "a calm sea at night. The first moonbeams are struggling to pierce through dark clouds, which eventually pass over, leaving the sea shimmering in full moonlight." This nocturne begins as a huge orchestral sigh, a tender, quiet, harp-accompanied inhalation followed by a long, firm, crescendoing exhalation of related material, a troubling little cough in the brass, and then a more extended section in which the material breathes more steadily and quietly.
"Storm," the finale, is almost self-explanatory. Wrote Bridge, "Wind, rain and tempestuous seas, with the lulling of the storm an [allusion] to the first number is heard and which may be regarded as the sea-lover's dedication to the sea." Despite much conventional churning in the strings and woodwinds, complete with cymbal crashes, chorale-like brass passages also ride over some of the effects. Again, the music ebbs and flows, and once the storm's last flurries seem to have receded into the low woodwinds, Bridge brings back the big, sweeping theme from the first movement as a brief but splendid coda for full orchestra.