Evocations of war in words and music
November 2008 marks the 90th
commemoration of the
Armistice. We are still at war.
But still he died
Nobly, so cover him over
With violets of pride
Purple from Severn side.
Cover him, cover him soon!
And with thick-set
Masses of memoried flowers –
Hide that red wet
Thing I must somehow forget.
(From To His
Love by Ivor Gurney featured on The Dark Pastoral CD (Altara) with Andrew Kennedy, Julius Drake and Simon
Somehow somehow something hit the mines
The mine was armed somehow I mean
I remember seeing it hit the ground and just
The flash come right at me
After a while after a while after a while
And it…it launched me
I mean yards way up in the air back
When I realized ‘man, I just got blew up by about 20 mines
I was like, wow
(From I was
like, Wow! composed by Jacob ter Veldhuis
featured on solo CD ‘I was
like, Wow’ (Channel Classics) with Dutch
trombonist Jörgen van Rijen.)
English tenor Andrew Kennedy and Dutch trombonist Jörgen
van Rijen both received Borletti-Buitoni Trust
awards in 2006 and both used part of their monies (£20,000 each award) towards
music projects that come to fruition this year, 2008. Both projects happen to
address the issues of war; the so called Great War of 1914-18 and the so called War Against Terror of the 21st century.
The magnitude and global scope of both wars inspire awesome
feelings of loss and helplessness even though the practical and physical nature
of warfare has changed in the intervening years. Terror has taken on a different meaning –
but destruction, pain and loss are still the same. Our individual lives today
are not personally distorted by war even though media coverage brings it
relentlessly to our attention. Reporting of wars is graphic and brutally real,
but have we become inured to the violence we see on TV screens? Was it more real in 1914 or 1944 when it was actually
in our own back yard and the home front casualties of war were a daily fact of
life for everyone?
These two BBT projects both deal with the horror of war, but in
extremely different ways. What makes more of an emotional impact?: the
hauntingly sad poems and songs that vividly invoke the pastoral idyll in
contrast to the stench of the battlefield? Or the unshielded reality of
brutally graphic descriptions of destruction and injury? Would the former way
make an impact at all nowadays?
Andrew Kennedy’s CD, The Dark Pastoral, explores new territory and new perspectives in the music and
poetry of World War I. He has chosen previously unheard or unpublished songs of
three composers – William Denis Browne, Ivor
Gurney and Eugene Goosens – and juxtaposed them with works from poets and writers mostly
eclipsed by the more famous war poets such as Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred
Owen. These selected works are commentaries on war that are shocking because
the writers and composers cling to ideals: searingly beautiful and tender
memories of former lives and landscapes proclaim all the more emphatically the
intensity of loss – loss of beauty, of love, of friendship and of life.
May, 1915 (Ivor Gurney)
Let us remember Spring will come again
To the scorched, blackened woods, where the wounded trees
Wait with their old wise patience for the heavenly rain,
Sure of the sky: sure of the sea to send its healing breeze,
Sure of the sun. And even as to these
Surely the Spring, when God shall please,
Will come again like a divine surprise
To those who sit today with the great Dead, hands in their
hands, eyes in their eyes,
At one with Love, at one with Grief: blind to the scattered things
and changing skies.
In the 21st century
Dutch composer Jacob ter Veldhuis’ expression of war is equally shocking with a poignant musical
score that echoes both the valedictory notes of war and the staccato rhythms of
battle matched with words that are almost prosaic in their direct descriptions
and visceral imagery. Ter Veldhuis, who is renowned for his commentary on
social and political issues, has manipulated a recording of two American
veterans interviewed about their experiences in Iraq alongside a score for solo trombone and taped trombone. The
mundane and loveless family background of the Iraq war veteran that led him voluntarily to the army and the thrill
of adventure is a depressing reversal of the first world war
experiences of soldiers mourning the loss of their homelife: ” I have shrapnel in pretty much every part of my body. Got my
finger blown off. It don’t work right. I had a whole blown through my right
let. Had three skin grafts to try and repair it. It’s not too bad right now. It
hurts a lot. That’s about it. You know, not really anything major. Just little
things. I get headaches…I don’t have any regrets. No not at all. It was the
best experience of my life… I have one brother and one sister. Couldn’t tell
you where they live. For a while we grew up together. Mother? Father? Well,
they both exist. They’re both alive, but circumstances regarding the
relationship are kind of complicated.”
Dutch trombonist Jörgen van Rijen has chosen this work (specially
written for him) as the title track of an eclectic mix of repertoire – all
pieces that have the personal ‘wow’ factor and that, collectively, demonstrate
the versatility of the trombone as a solo instrument.
CD Releases: The Dark Pastoral was released earlier
this year on the Altara label and also features Julius Drake (piano) and Simon
Russell-Beale (reading the poems).
I was like, Wow is released in early
2009. Jörgen van Rijen gives a showcase performance at 22 Mansfield Street,
London W1 on 1 December.
Audio visual extracts: a film interview with Jörgen van Rijen about this project and a video excerpt of I was like “Wow” are available in the BB Trust Audio and Video section