Thursday, 7 November 2013

9 & 10 November

War in the 20th century

Today's programme is a tribute to those who gave their lives (voluntarily or otherwise) in the global conflicts of the 20th century.

Script (Rupert Kirkham):

 Ralph Vaughan-Williams
Symphony No. 6 in E minor (opening minute)

The opening of Ralph Vaughan-Williams 6th Symphony. We'll hear more from that  work later in the programme.
This is Classical Break and I'm Rupert Kirkham. Now, we've got a bit of a departure from our normal today; as I'm sure you know, it's the time of year when we remember those who died in the great wars of the last century.  Armistice Day is on the 11th and this programme is our contribution to the memories of those terrible times which live on in the literature and music of the twentieth century. In the programme, we'll be hearing music, poetry and prose on the subject of war and reactions to it - specifically, the first and second world conflicts.

All this week on Somer Valley FM, we've been broadcasting an exceptional series of short programmes under the title, "Lest We Forget", drawing together popular music of the time, war and other poems and readings from local author, Chris Howell's book, "No Thankful Village" on the impact of the Great War or Midsomer Norton, Radstock and the surrounding area. These programmes have been put together by Michael Taylor. Today we'll feature 2 of those programmes and we're going to mix it up with classical musical contributions from two of the 20th century's finest  British composers - Ralph Vaughan-Williams and Benjamin Britten.

Let's start with programme three in the 'Lest We Forget' series. We'll begin with Michael Taylor's introduction to the programme as it went out last week.

Programme 3

segway into

Ralph Vaughan-Williams
Symphony No. 6 in E minor (middle section, 9 minutes 19 secs)

The middle section of Vaughan-Williams' 6th Symphony, played by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Vaughan-Williams always maintained that this symphony, performed over 100 times in it's opening year of 1948, just 3 years after the end of the second World War, was not about war. He had recently started compsing film music, which, he said, had liberated him to experiment with new styles (for him, at any rate).

However, many people quite logically felt that the 6th was a war piece, despite his protestation, "It never seems to occur to people that a man might just want to write a piece of music!". Later, we'll have the opening movement of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem - that was definitely about war, but first, here's Michael Taylor again with "Lest We Forget".

Programme 4

Thanks to Michael Taylor for allowing us to use his programmes in Classical Break and to Chris Howell and Mike Plummer for their evocative readings of Chris's material, which came from his book, "No Thankful Village".

Now onto our final piece today, the War Requiem by Benjamin Britten. We're not going to play all of it - we don't have time - just the first movement. Requiem Aeternam. It includes a setting of Wilfred Owen's war poem, 'What Passing Bells for Those who Die as Cattle" (transcript below).

It's the hundredth Anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Britten this year and the piece we're about to hear sets Britten firmly amongst the pacifists of the 20th century. The War Requiem, written in 1962, was to commemorate those who died in both World Wars and was, in the words of Shostakovitch, "The greatest work of the twentieth century". It was in fact commissioned four years earlier for the consecration of the new modernist cathedral designed by Basil Spence in Coventry, the old one having been seriously hit by German bombers in 1940 and left in ruins.

So here's the first movement of Britten's War Requiem, performed by the LSO under Richard Hickox, with the choristers of St. Paul's Cathedral, and the tenor, Philip Langridge on a Chandos recording from 1991.

 Enjoy the rest of the programme and join us again for another edition of Classical Break, next time. Goodbye.

Benjamin Britten
War Requiem (first movement)

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
    Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
    Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them from prayers or bells,
    Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
    And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
    Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
    The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of silent maids,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Wilfred Owen