This project was conceived in 2011, shortly after we finished recording our CD of Lamentations. We had already touched on the World War I theme in our Requiem disc of 2009, which included my settings of World War I texts by well-known English poets, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Isaac Rosenberg and Ivor Gurney.
We decided to build on this, and our aim for the new project was twofold. First, we wanted to add substantially to the choral repertoire for remembrance. Second, we wanted to mark the centenary of the outbreak of war with a collection that offered a broader view of the war, reaching beyond the dichotomy of war is noble/war is hell.
For this reason we asked the composers to look outside the poetical canon and consider texts by women, neglected poets and writers in languages other than English. In conceiving the scope of this disc, the Imperial War Museum’s Forgotten Voices series was a valuable resource. It contains thousands of choral accounts from all theatres of war, full of humour, guilt, horror and wisdom. For my own work, I found Tim Cross’ The Lost Voices of World War I, which uncovers a broad cross-section of writers from most of the participant nations, to be an excellent resource. What we have arrived at is a collection of personal responses to texts that the composers picked themselves.
Most of the male poets featured here died on the Western Front, although Apollinaire perished in Paris in the influenza epidemic, and Stramm was killed on the Eastern Front. We get an insight into the extraordinary courage of the nurse, Edith Cavell, and a view of the Home Front from Charlotte Mew.
We live in a different age now. Interestingly, four of the new pieces use texts by Edward Thomas, highlighting the regard in which he is now held. Perhaps, more than any other, he gives us a glimpse into another world.
Cities, countryside, clothing, technology and social institutions may have changed beyond recognition, but what links us still are stories, music, language and memory.
(John Duggan, 2014)