From the current issue of Choir & Organ
DULCE ET DECORUM
The maverick young teacher in Alan Bennett’s play The History Boys says of the first world war, ‘There’s no better way of forgetting something than by commemorating it.’ This opinion may be controversial, even cynical – though we all have recent memories of our politicians solemnly laying wreaths at the Cenotaph while at the same time leading our country into yet another war. We Brits are good at ceremony; but how can we move beyond the safety of smart-suited, well-choreographed formal events and be touched instead by the gross obscenity of ‘the war to end all wars’, which killed an estimated 15-17 million combatants and civilians of so many nationalities?
Herein lies one intrinsic value of the arts: they have the power to connect with us at both an affective and intellectual level, extended over a drawn-out time span that is out of kilter with our sound-bite era, and able to be returned to time and time again, so that at each time of visiting we may be struck by something else, or enter the subject at a more profound level. Who has not discovered something new in each hearing of Britten’s War Requiem, each reading of Siegfried Sassoon’s A Working Party, or in each viewing of Paul Nash’s The Ypres Salient at Night? Arts organisers have put much thought into planning events (see p.58) that help us to encounter and reflect deeply on the happenings of 100 years ago. Newly commissioned works, such as Patrick Hawes’s tribute to Edith Cavell (Eventide) and German composer Torsten Rasch’s A Foreign Field (see also p.33), bring fresh perspectives alongside established war-themed pieces; and other works, such as Duruflé’s Requiem, take on additional significance when performed in this more specific context. Exhibitions and non-musical events help to put further flesh on the war; the Church has produced materials for quiet, communal meditation; and for personal musings from the Front, turn to our feature on part-time organist James Morton, who joined the Royal Flying Corps (p.54).