‘Voices From The Front’ Live in Concert Recording

Last week saw the premiere of my new choral piece ‘Voices From The Front’, performed live in Bath, at the Countess of Huntingdon’s Chapel. I was honoured to have the fantastic choral group Men With Horns perform the work, under the expert guidance of conductor Mike Daniels and organist Steven Hollas.

It was a very special moment for me as a composer, to hear and experience this marriage of words and music. But it was fundamentally different from other works I have written, because of the important context and coincidence with the centenary of the First World War.

‘Voices from the Front’ was composed to a selection of poems written by soldiers during the First World War. Most war themed music tends to pick one poem, or one poet to set music to, however ‘Voices from the Front’ uses extracts of several soldiers’ poems. This is to emphasize the collective poetic contribution they made, a reflection of the collective struggle they endured during the war.

 

Click above to hear the live recording of ‘Voices From The Front’

When researching the poetry for this piece, I was surprised to see how many soldiers had written poems. Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen have been celebrated for their literary skills, but it seems only right to put all these poets on equal billing. The emotions that these words convey tells us more about the horror and futility of war than any other literature or film can possibly achieve.

Apart from Siegfried Sassoon, all of the poets featured in ‘Voices from the Front’ lost their lives during the First World War. It is humbling to read their vibrancy of conscience and humanity, which somehow found its way out of the trenches through poetry. In the end, we are given a simple plea by William Noel Hodgson, ‘Make me a man, O Lord’. To think that these soldiers simply hoped to die as men with some kind of dignity is of course a painful insight to the effects of war.

The Poets/Soldiers

Lieutenant William Noel Hodgson, died 1 July 1916, aged 23

Lieutenant Ewart Alan Mackintosh, died 21 November 1917, aged 24

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, died 28 January 1918, aged 46

Lieutenant Wilfred Owen, died 4 November 1918, aged 25

Sergeant John William Streets, died 1 July 1916, aged 30

 

Captain Siegfried Sassoon, 1886 – 1967

 

Poems In Order of Appearance

Siegfried Sassoon, On Passing the New Menin Gate

Wilfred Owen/Horace, Dulce et Decorum Est

Wilfred Owen, Strange Meeting

John McCrae, In Flanders Fields

Ewart Alan Mackintosh, In Memoriam

William Noel Hodgson, Before Action

John William Streets, Matthew Copse

John William Streets, Love of Life

 

The Words

Who will remember, passing through this Gate,

The unheroic Dead who fed the guns?

Who shall absolve the foulness of their fate,

-
Those doomed, conscripted, unvictorious ones?

Sassoon

 

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori:

mors et fugacem persequitur virum

Horace/Owen

 

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

McCrae

 

Dreams of the day when rampant there will rise

The flowers of Truth and Freedom from the blood

Of noble youth who died: when there will bud

The flower of Love from human sacrifice.

There by the fallen youth, where heroes lie,

Close by each simple cross the flowers will spring,

Streets

 

“I am the enemy you killed, my friend……

Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.

I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.

Let us sleep now. . . .”

Owen

 

You were only David’s father,

But I had fifty sons

When we went up in the evening

Under the arch of the guns,

And we came back at twilight –

O God! I heard them call

More my sons that your fathers’…..

They screamed “Don’t leave me, sir”

Mackintosh

 

Reach out thy hands, O spirit, till I feel

That I am fully thine: for I shall live

In the proud consciousness that thou dost give:

And if thy twilight fingers round me steal

And draw me unto death-thy votary

Am I, O Life, reach out thy hands to me!

Streets

 

Make me a soldier, Lord…..

Make me a man, O Lord…..

Help me to die, O Lord…..

Hodgson

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