Sunday Nov 12, 7:00 pm
Royal Northern College of Music
This concert is a musical reflection for Remembrance Sunday 99 years after the Armistice in 1918. The programme is indicated below and more information, including ticket availability, is included in the publicity brochure here.
The concert is sponsored by the Elgar Society. For more information see below.
Programme to Include:
“Requiem for the Living” (Dan Forrest)
This is a new work which has been performed more than a hundred times since its composition in 2013, at venues in Canada, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and multiple times at Carnegie Hall. It is not well known in Britain and ours will be the first regional performance. It is a 40 minute 5 movement work, for choir, two soloists and a large orchestra in a modern but very tuneful and approachable style. A review written for the Greenville News called the work “highly accessible, with soaring melodies and luminous harmony”.
“The Spirit of England” (Edward Elgar)
First performed on October 4th 1917, this is often described as Elgar’s War Requiem
Other Works by Butterworth (killed on the Somme in 1916), C.H.H. Parry, John Ireland, Haydn Wood and Ivor Novello.
The soloist will be Camilla Roberts (Soprano).
As usual, the performance will be conducted by Nigel Wilkinson, accompanied by the East Lancs Sinfonia.
Elgar Society Sponsorship
It was Sidney Colvin, future co-dedicatee of the Cello Concerto, who first suggested to Elgar in early 1915 that he should consider setting poems by Laurence Binyon. Colvin and Binyon had been colleagues at the British Museum in London. Like many other war poets of the time, Binyon was not a combatant in the Great War–he eventually reached the Western Front in 1916 as a medical orderly–but his poetry achieved a sufficient measure of success for a selection to be published in late 1914 in an anthology called The Winnowing Fan. Elgar chose three poems from the volume: ‘The Fourth of August’ (the date on which Britain went to war); ‘To Women’; and ‘For the Fallen’, a poem which had yet to achieve its iconic status through repeated recitations at annual remembrance services. Elgar decided to call the trilogy The Spirit of England.Elgar quickly set to work but soon encountered obstacles. A chance meeting with Cambridge University academic and fellow composer Cyril Rootham led to the discovery that Rootham was also setting ‘For the Fallen’ and that Novello had provisionally agreed to publish it. Claiming that the market could not sustain two settings, Elgar felt obliged to withdraw. Colvin and a number of other influential friends prevailed upon Elgar to continue, which he eventually agreed to do, thereby possibly triggering the Cambridge antipathy towards his music which continued until comparatively recently.
Work on the second and third poems then progressed rapidly, allowing them to be premièred in Leeds on 3 May 1916 with John Booth the soloist in ‘To Women’ and Agnes Nicholls in ‘For the Fallen’. But Elgar found the setting of ‘The Fourth of August’ more challenging. Not least among his problems was the sixth verse, which portrayed Germans as “the barren creed of blood and iron, vampires of Europe’s wasted will” . For all his patriotism, Elgar took a more ambivalent view of the war. Many of his closest friends and loyal supporters were of German origin, and it was only as the war progressed and news of German atrocities became accepted that Elgar felt able to set the verse. His response to the mixed feelings he felt was, however, highly ambiguous: he included three quotations from the ‘Demons’ Chorus’ from The Dream of Gerontius. His choice of the ‘Demons’ Chorus’ was undoubtedly significant, but Elgar leaves us to decide who, in a situation of all-out warfare, the demons are.
Elgar finished setting ‘The Fourth of August’ in April 1917, allowing a première of the complete work in Birmingham on 4 October 1917. On this occasion the New Zealand soprano Rosina Buckman was the soloist in all three pieces. (Elgar had sanctioned the option of either a contralto or tenor soloist for ‘To Women’ but, while tenors were often used in early performances of the work, the additional cost of a second soloist has presumably acted as a deterrent in more recent times.) Contemporary newspaper reports record that the work was received with enthusiasm, and it continued to be performed regularly, at least while the war continued. But it failed to secure a firm foothold on the concert platform and today performances are mainly limited to weekends in early November close to Remembrance Day – a pity, because Elgar’s interpretation is about far more than the war itself.
At a time when the national mood was crying out for another shallow, tub-thumping Pomp and Circumstance march, Elgar resisted the temptation to play to the gallery and instead provided a deeply introspective piece which many now regard as his War Requiem. There are brief moments of unbridled optimism, particularly in the earlier sections of ‘The Fourth of August’, but the prevailing mood is sombre and a touch ethereal. ‘To Women’ and ‘For the Fallen’ share an opening tempo of a slow march, redolent of marching armies and the tramping of thousands of aching men’s feet, while the faster march forming the central section of ‘For the Fallen’ has a disjointed, somewhat ghostly atmosphere. Such contradictions are eventually resolved in the final minutes when, after a passage of deep uncertainty, two themes first heard in more subdued tones in the opening passages of ‘For the Fallen’ rise to a brief, glorious soaring climax. But Elgar avoids the clichés of a World Cup Final; this is not the transient victory of nation over nation but the triumph of hope over experience, of the human spirit over adversity – and perhaps of the local tradesman’s son from Worcester over the disadvantages of a provincial upbringing and the lack of a formal musical education.