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Violin II part from The Great War Sextet

Canadian Voices from the Trenches (1914-1918)

By Benjamin Sajo (2014)
30 minutes
Modern classical music

The music sets the poetry of five Canadian and one Australian poet who partook in world war I. These poems come from the compilation, We Wasn’t Pals: Canadian Poetry and Prose of the First World War, edited by Barry Callaghan and Bruce Meyer (Toronto: Exile Editions Ltd., 2001). Stylistically, the music draws inspiration from the turn of the twentieth century and expresses a duality between neo-Romantic sentimentality and expressionist grotesque. Just as the First World War bridges the modern age, thusly does this music seek to evoke the zeitgeist of the times.

John McCrae, "In Flanders Fields” — pneumonia 1918 W.W.E. Ross, “Soldiery” —survived war. H. Smalley Sarsom, “Love Song”— Wounded at Ypres, 1916 William H. Ogilvie, “Canadians” — survived war. Bernard Freeman Trotter, “Smoke”— killed in action, 1917 A. Audet, “No Man’s Land”— survived war

The trombonist of this work represents the wayfaring protagonist soldier; his instrument his gun. The strings evoke both the literal sounds of the world around him—rustling winds, a nightingale, explosions—and the inner emotions such situations evoke—nostalgia, terror, serenity. Both the trombonist and string quartet use their bodies along with normal, instrumental technique, to create unique sounds and theatrical effects: marching on the spot and drumming on their instruments primarily. Each movement begins with the poem presented as dry recitative by the ensemble, followed by the more musical interpretation.

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