Armistice Sonnets Premieres
Armistice Sonnets, a new choral work commissioned by the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition, which commemorates the centenary of the Armistice of 11 November 1918, will receive multiple premieres in Fall 2018. My heartfelt thanks to the directors and performers at Voces Novae (Louisville, KY), Penn State University Concert Choir, Virginia Wesleyan Camerata, University of Wisconsin–Madison Madrigal Singers, St. David’s Choir (Baltimore, MD), University of South Carolina Concert Choir, and Newburyport Choral Society (Newburyport, MA)!
About Armistice Sonnets
THIS IS A MEDITATION ON CEASEFIRES. 2018 marked 100 years since the signing of the Armistice of 11 November 1918, the truce that ended the fighting of the First World War. That’s something worth commemorating, isn’t it? It’s appropriate to remember such a sobering period in history and to honor those who sacrificed—including especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice—for the cause of peace.
And yet. The terms imposed by the Armistice (and related agreements), in hindsight, seem to have made inevitable the eruption of the Second World War. In short, the “War to End All Wars” wasn’t. Ceasefire? Yes. Lasting peace? No—and still no.
The Columbine High School shooting of 1999, which occurred during my own final year of high school, was the first time the words “school” and “shooting” were joined in my mind. And now, 20 years later, in the wake of scores of similar events, recently in Parkland, FL and Santa Fe, TX, the phrase is as commonplace as “school lunch.”
What is peace, really? Is it only the “sudden silence after clamour” because, for the moment, all the shooters have been shot? Or is it substantive in itself, something purposefully constructed and renewed by the practice of love? Is it attainable in a community? Between nations?
Eleanor Farjeon’s two-sonnet sequence, entitled “Peace,” asks this profoundly apolitical question, which sadly remains as relevant now as it was in 1918. Which of us, she asks, will, during moments of peace, “shout the name of love” to prevent the next shooting, the next War to End All Wars?
This piece unfolds in three short movements, the latter two performed attacca. Because it is written to help commemorate WWI (or a related conflict or loss), during the second movement, singers are invited (at the discretion of the director) to speak the names of those who are to be remembered (for example, their closest kin to serve). In my case, I would say “James Harrison” (my great-grandmother’s brother, who served in France).
May you and I “shout the name of love” even, and especially, during times of relative peace as we work towards a lasting ceasefire. —Andrew Maxfield (2018)
by Eleanor Farjeon
I am as awful as my brother War,
I am the sudden silence after clamour.
I am the face that shows the seamy scar When blood has lost its frenzy and its glamour. Men in my pause shall know the cost at last That is not to be paid in triumphs or tears,
Men will begin to judge the thing that’s past
As men will judge it in a hundred years.
Nations! whose ravenous engines must be fed Endlessly with the father and the son,
My naked light upon your darkness, dread! — By which ye shall behold what ye have done: Whereon, more like a vulture than a dove,
Ye set my seal in hatred, not in love.
Let no man call me good. I am not blest.
My single virtue is the end of crimes,
I only am the period of unrest,
The ceasing of the horrors of the times;
My good is but the negative of ill,
Such ill as bends the spirit with despair,
Such ill as makes the nations’ soul stand still And freeze to stone beneath its Gorgon glare.
Be blunt, and say that peace is but a state Wherein the active soul is free to move,
And nations only show as mean or great According to the spirit then they prove. —
O which of ye whose battle-cry is Hate
Will first in peace dare shout the name of Love?
From Sonnets and Poems, published 1918 by B.H. Blackwell, Oxford.