Tenor Solo, Semi-chorus, Choir and Orchestra
This was originally written in 2011 for Tenor solo, semi-chorus and choir accompanied only by the periodic ringing of a bell.
For the season of concerts commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War, it was rewritten to include an orchestral accompaniment.
The programme notes from the first performance are below.
‘For Valour…’ seeks to explore the personal, patriotic and spiritual responses to war using texts predominately from the First World War. The architecture of the setting grew from the seed of Taizé chant, where the main singers provide a simple accompaniment behind a solo line proclaiming important words from scripture. To this arrangement has been added a quartet of singers representing the ‘official’ level between the personal and the spiritual.
The solo tenor sings Wilfred Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, a sonnet bemoaning the horrific anonymity of the slaughter taking place. This was the first part to be set, its angular, twisting line mirroring the desperate anger and sadness expressed, whilst at the same time providing the harmonic framework for the other two parts.
The next part to be set was the main choir. Ecclesiastes 3, the scripture chosen in a moment of inspiration by my wife Gail, reflects on the fact that in God’s creation the full spectrum of experiences may be expected, and that evil and suffering should not be taken to mean an absence of God. The text is sung slowly and smoothly, harmonies ranging between on the one hand dissonant and on the other lush and colourful. Each short section is punctuated by a ‘passing bell’, calling listeners ever more insistently to remember those who lost their lives in conflict.
The last part to be added was the quartet. To begin, extracts of British First World War propaganda are set, sung with brash confidence. Next, a soldier’s prayer is set to a simple chorale-style harmonization. Finally, extracts from letters of condolence sent by officers to the families of those who have died are set. These letters are possibly the most heart rending of all the texts used, showing that each loss of life, far from being anonymous, was in fact mourned at a very personal level.
The piece draws to a close after a moment’s silence with the choirs uniting to sing the words which start the prayer for the dead, ‘Requiem aeternam’, accompanied by a final passing bell.