Patrick Lee - Sacrifices

Sacrifices

Instrumentation

Baritone solo (and Narrator) SATB chorus Orchestra (or 2-piano accompaniment)

Recording, download - 2.31MB

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Patrick Lee - Sacrifices

Other Information

A 35-minute, single movement, choral work originally written to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of World War 1. This work is also intended to have a resonance for those who have been involved in or who have been affected by similar conflicts. The libretto comes from poems of war poets - Brooke, Seeger, Owen, Rosenberg, McCrae - as well as Herman Hesse. Details of the individual sections are to be found below the Section 4 extract.

The premiere performance was given by the 180-strong Ripon Choral Society, under the direction of John Dunford, on Saturday15th November 2014.

The recording is Ripon Choral Society singing two passages from Section 4 - "The Soldier" (a setting of the poem by Rupert Brooke).

The Soldier (one of Rupert Brooke s Five War Sonnets)

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be

In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;

A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,

Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,

A body of England s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,

A pulse in the eternal mind, no less

Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;

Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;

And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,

In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Sacrifices - section by section

But Secretly We Thirst (Hesse) opens the work with a light-weight, almost carefree atmosphere, but this is quickly dispelled by the assertion that humans have dark, barbaric instincts which lie not far beneath the surface. As this section finishes, the chorus descends into darker thoughts - but deep beneath the tranquil surface burns longing for blood, barbarity and night. The flighty mood of the opening is gone completely.

The narrator then appears for the first time (accompanied by strings, horns and woodwind) to comment on why so many did so easily sign up in those early days of the war.

The next section is the first of three of Brooke s War Sonnets. The opening of Peace is an a capella chorale-type passage with string accompaniment arriving later. By the end of this section of the work, the mood and meaning of the words and music has become very dark And the worst friend and enemy is Death . The passage for the narrator which follows is, at first, accompanied by only the timpani but then with strings and solo woodwind or brass instruments over the top. This is an attempt to bring the words of the narrator to life, as a sound picture, such that the final words This was the first time we realized what the war was about have a significant impact.

The opening of The Dead is a fanfare - bearing in mind that poets, at the beginning of the war, were asked to glorify and ennoble the idea of enlisting in the army. For the latter six lines of Brooke s sonnet, the music attempts to portray the analogy in the poem. A wide, panoramic view of a lake or the sea is blown by changing winds and lit by the rich skies all day . Then, perhaps at night, frost covers the surface of the water and its shore-line, as a calming influence, just as the idea of fighting and dying for a noble cause is supposed to transcend the pain and despair of death. This section moves on to the next without a break and with no input from the narrator.

The Soldier is perhaps the most famous of Brooke s War Sonnets. As a poem, it is far from being a straightforward piece of sentimental patriotic verse. The poet asks the listener/reader to remember those who die through his use of nostalgic, English imagery, thus trying to dignify death by association with national pride. By implication, the poem (and particularly the ending) looks forward to the need for remembrance in the years to follow. The final bars of this section, have a hymn-like feel which, once again, is intended to bring out the implied spiritual connotations of English-ness.

Alan Seeger was an American poet who fought and died during the Battle of the Somme, serving in the French Foreign Legion. He was the uncle of American folk singer Pete Seeger and a classmate of T.S. Eliot at Harvard. He is probably best known for his poem, Rendezvous, a favourite poem of J. F. Kennedy. This is a song of things fondly remembered and the fatal resignation with which the author accepts his rendezvous with Death . The irregular time signature (10/8) may seem a little strange for the first few minutes of rehearsal but past experience shows that performers can take this uneven pulse on board with little difficulty.

I first wrote this as an instrumental number, before 2011, and tried it out with the jazz quintet with which I played until 2012. Whilst searching for a way to set this poem and playing through lots of different ideas, I was continually drawn to this 10/8 instrumental number. What was uncanny was that the words and the meaning of the poem, line by line, fitted so remarkably well with something that was originally written a couple of years earlier.

Wilfred Owen s poem, Dulce Et Decorum Est, is extremely powerful and dramatic it explodes the myth, the great lie about the war. In performance, this section should be sung with complete commitment, exasperation, horror, fear and anger just as the soldiers who suffered in that kind of gas explosion must have felt. Nothing in this section is supposed to be pretty or edifying; the passage which follows the poisoned gas shell explosion must convey extreme bitterness.

Isaac Rosenberg s Returning, We Hear The Larks sees the soldiers heading back to base after a period spent on duty in the trenches. Larks accompany them as they march but they re aware, in stark contrast, that the threat of death is never far away.

John McCrae s In Flanders Fields is another very well-known poem which, through its use of imagery, the poppy and battlefield crosses, reminds the performers and their audience of our duty to remember those who lost their lives in war. The main, opening melody, sung by the basses, is derived from the melodic fragment which has occurred throughout the work. At the end of this song, a four bar instrumental passage takes the music straight into the setting of a single stanza from Herman Hesse s poem Worship. These words leave performers and audiences with the hope that one day these sacrifices will no longer be necessary.