And all the trumpets Sounded (1989) - Ronald Corp
Ronald Corp And all the trumpets sounded (1989)
The title of the work comes from the last pages of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress: ‘And all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.’ Trumpet fanfares are associated with the angels and with ceremonial occasions but also with war and the call to arms. In this sense a number of different strands have come together in my cantata. The verses from the thirteenth century Dies irae were chosen for their colourful language and imagery and the work was intended as a companion piece for Vaughan Williams’s Dona nobis pacem (also based on latin texts and war poems). Of course the work also reminds us of Britten’s towering ‘War Requiem’.
I had long wanted to set Whitman’s poem ‘Vigil Strange’ to music. Whitman has been a major influence to a number of British composers and I have also set his verses in my song cycle ‘The Music of Whitman’ (recorded by Mark Stone and Simon Lepper on a disc of my songs on Stone Records).
I had the idea of writing onomatopæic music to depict the day of judgement and war. I think I had in mind the minimalist composers and I think I heard in my inner ear the shouts and cries of the battlefield. After a few attemtps to express battle music in these terms I turned instead to a more conventional notation for the opening‘Dies iræ’ which is in any case percussive and violent.
The Whitman poem was the first section to be composed (and was completed in 1987). The other poems are from World War 1 and were chosen to be relevnt to their place amongst the verses I had chosen to set from the Dies irae. The trumpet is mentioned in the Edward Thomas and Rupert Brooke poems. In the Whitman poem we experience the killing of a soldier first hand on the battlefied and in the Sorley and Owen poems the poets consider death itself. I wanted to include a Wilfred Owen poem but felt that it should be one that did not appear in the Britten’s ‘War Requiem’.
The chosen poets all had experience of war and the battlefield at first hand. Walt Whitam was a voluntary nurse in the American Civil war and saw the carnage first hand.
Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) was commissioned into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a temporary Sub-Lieutenant shortly after his 27th birthday and took part in the Royal Naval Division's Antwerp expedition in October 1914. He sailed with the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force on 28 February 1915 but developed sepsis from an infected mosquito bite. He died on 23 April 1915 in a French hospital ship moored in a bay off the island of Skyros.
A quick roll call of the miltary careers of the other poets reveals a sad pattern of life and potential squandered. Edward Thomas (1878-1917) enlisted in the Artists' Rifles in July 1915. He was promoted Corporal and in November 1916 was commissioned into the Royal Garrison Artillery. He was killed in action soon after he arrived in France at Arras on Easter Monday, 9 April 1917. Charles Hamilton Sorley (1895-1915) arrived at the Western Front in France as a lieutenant in May 1915, and quickly rose to the rank of captain at the age of twenty. Sorley was killed in action near Hulluch, where he was shot in the head by a sniper at the Battle of Loos on 13 October 1915. Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) enlisted in 1915 in the Artists' Rifles Officers' Training Corps.
He led units of the Second Manchesters on 1 October 1918 to storm a number of enemy strong points near the village of Joncourt.
However, only one week before the end of the war, whilst attempting to traverse a canal, he was shot in the head and was killed. The news of his death, on 4 November 1918, was given to his mother on Armistice Day.
Their stories are tragic and poignant. Their poetry is simple and direct and a moving testament to what they experienced in their short lives.
‘And all the trumpets sounded’ is scored for normal classical orchestra, without trombones. A baritone soloist sings the poems, and a children’s choir sings the ‘Pie Jesu’.
Vaughan Williams’s Dona nobis pacem is a cry for peace (although much of the music is warlike) and Britten’s War Requiem is a gigantic lament for the dead and for the ‘pity of war’. My piece focuses on war, the dead and the trumpets of the last judgment. At the end, after the ‘Pie Jesu’ and ‘Lacrymosa’ sections, and after a Wilfred Owen poem, I return to the ‘Dies iræ’ music and to the repeated trumpet fanfares.The music seems to be saying – somewhat to my surprise and contrary to my conscious belief – that war goes on, there is no rest, there is no abiding peace. The trumpets bring the work to an abrupt end.
Copyright © Ronald Corp 2011