In Flanders’ Fields

A century ago, the First World War was in full swing.  The battle for Ypres was taking place in April 1916 and it was the first time phosgene gas was used.  It is difficult to believe that out of this carnage and bloodletting, some lovely music, poetry and art was created.

At the last meeting, Richard Seal played a selection of pieces which were composed during the time of the war or inspired by it.  Richard was much moved by visits to the war graves in Flanders including Vimy Ridge, Arras and Thiepval where he hopes to go to again.

He began with A Shropshire Lad by George Butterworth who died on the Somme in 1916 aged just 31.  This is a familiar piece and his death was a great loss to music.  This was followed by the last movement of Morning Heroes by Sir Arthur Bliss who lived until 1975 but who lost his brother in the conflict.  He returned to the battlefield in 1928 and this piece was the result of that visit.

This was followed by Three songs by Ivor Gurney.  Gurney had a troubled life and was both a poet and composer.  He was gassed while serving with the Gloucester regiment but his biggest problem was his mental health.  At the time he was thought to be the greatest of his generation but his full promise never materialised.

Britten was too young for the war but his War Requiem, which was composed for the consecration of Coventry Cathedral destroyed in WWII, was inspired by the poems of Wilfrid Owen who regrettably died a week before the Armistice.

This was followed by an Elegy for strings and harp by Frederick Kelly who died in 1916. An Australian he also had a gold medal for rowing in the 1908 Olympics and this elegy was in memory of Rupert Brooke who also lost his life.

Some pieces by Charles Ives followed including In Flanders’ Fields composed in 1917.

The evening finished with the last movement of the Pastoral Symphony by Vaughan Williams.  The First World War, in which he served in the army in the medical corps, had a lasting emotional effect.

It was a fascinating evening and the presenter’s erudition about this moving period of our history shone through.


The next meeting is on April 18th

peter curbishley

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