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The University of Southampton

Remembrance Day Event

Great War: Unknown War
Henry Lamont Simpson
16 November 2014
Turner Sims Highfield Campus University of Southampton Southampton SO17 1BJ

For more information regarding this event, please telephone Turner Sims Box Office on 023 8059 5151 or email .

Event details

UK premiere of a new piece by Michael Finnissy. A series of concerts organised in conjuction with the Turner Sims. The work is a discourse (or meditation) on ‘remembrance’, in which the main text, by Henry Simpson (1897-1918), is a kind of war diary, in which humanity’s ancient ideals and colourful visions are tested by the grim, uncaring, stinking hell of war, and in which "the rain is always washing away the dust of memories”.

Michael Finnissy is among the most distinguished British composers working today, internationally known for his achievements. Remembrance Day is a major new work of over an hour's length for baritone soloist, choir and orchestra, setting wartime texts by Henry Lamont Simpson.

Michael Finnissy explains:  Henry Lamont Simpson was born in June 1897 in Carlisle. He interrupted his university education to join the army, received a commission in the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers regiment, and was killed in action, at the battle of Hazebrouck, on August 29th 1918.  I imagine the piece to be Simpson's Wartime Diary, beginning with a sense that the ‘ancient gods’ will be unable to protect a world that is no longer young and innocent; he observes a group of men enlist, and marching past, they seem more like wasted corn-chaff than heroes. But Simpson is then a soldier himself, at the front, watching his comrades, and trying to think what to tell people about the war, trying also to remember something joyful to balance the sorrow.

At first he manages to make the vision spiritually radiant, but then it becomes darker and more bitter. The fighting is monotonous and seemingly endless, and he tries to forget that men are dying all around him. This sequence is sung by the soloist in dialogue with a choral setting of parts of the prologue to Goethe’s ‘Faust’, in which God and the Devil converse about the all too frequent warlike activities of mankind, and how they bring disaster on themselves.

In the second half of the piece, Simpson’s voice is heard in dialogue with a sequence of hymns about the sacrifice of war and Christian martyrdom by Peter Abelard.  Simpson recounts a moment of affirmation and tenderness with another soldier, he then deplores the meanness, vulgarity and triviality of some of the others, wondering how they can carry on singing ‘patriotic doggerel’ in the noisy hell of war. Then, with his comrades he finds time to bathe in a lake, and enjoy the sunshine, hopelessly wishing that they could all end their lives at that moment rather than in pain and suffering. At the end Simpson tells us that his songs, despoiled by war, have flown away - but the final lines tells us that beneath the corpses of his friends there are scarlet poppies springing up in the noontime sunshine.

The music makes many references to the music of that period: indeed it is an ‘inversion’ of Mahler’s 8th Symphony with its Latin Hymn and setting from Goethe’s Faust, there are clear references to sentimental melodies (Fauré), to the folk-music of the combatting nations and to old-fashioned hymn-tunes, and to military marches (Elgar) and ragtime.  Some of the references are drawn from a collection of songs owned by Harry Hoare, who like Simpson was killed in the war, and whose music was bound together by his mother Alda Hoare and annotated with her grief-stricken memories of his singing.

The piece represents the experiences of ordinary men and women coping with war. The poetry is not fanciful; it is not about emperors, field marshals or a detailed map of battles. The music imagines the battlefield, but also a nostalgic past, the countryside, and heaven. It portrays hope as well as despair, and - ultimately - it tries to be a kind of act of redemption, in a world still torn apart by dissent and war.

2 Clarinets (one in E-flat, and one Bassetthorn).
2 Bassoons
2 Trumpets
3 Trombones (Alto, Tenor, Bass)
3 Percussion (2 Vibraphones, and otherwise unpitched, no Timpani)
Strings (1st and 2nd violins, Violas, 'Cellos, Doublebass)

Tickets are available from the Turner Sims at £10, £9 (concessions and friends) and £6 (students).

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