Our November concert will be somewhat different again as the major work is a forty-minute piece called Crimson Stain, written by Vancouver composer Larry Nickel. It was written a year ago for the Halifax Camerata Singers to commemorate the battle of Passchendale, so it seems only fitting that we should perform it on the 100th anniversary of the ending of World War I; hence the concert title Armistice. The opening piece on that concert is called Armistice 1918—Everyone Sang.
November 11, 1918. One hundred years ago the guns stopped on that day and the war to end all wars, the Great War, World War I ended. Armistice was declared and everyone sang. Siegfried Sassoon’s poem, Everyone Sang, was written in April of 1919, shortly after the end of the war. It is this text that Craig Carnahan chose for his piece Armistice 1918 (Everyone Sang). As Carnahan says, “Much has been written about this poem, and there are conflicting interpretations of Sassoon’s intent. Some argue that his reference to “singing” literally represents the troop’s celebration upon receiving news that an armistice had been reached. Others, drawing from Sassoon’s own account, see his use of “singing” as a metaphor for the social revolution he hoped was eminent. Regardless, the poetry and Carnahan’s music are at times ecstatic and exuberant, while at other times subdued and reflective. Of course there is joy that the war is over, but there is still sadness at the tremendous loss that occurred. Throughout the poem there are two images: the communal power of voices united in song and the unbridled joy of freedom embodied by birds in flight.
The Lamentations of Jeremiah by Z. Randall Stroope confirms that suffering, to a greater or lesser degree, is common to all human beings. Stroope’s setting seeks “to capture the wide range of emotions which Jeremiah must have felt – grief-stricken, alone, ready to cry out, sobbing uncontrollably, and torn between belief and his circumstance.” Jeremiah experienced all these emotions and lamented the fall of Jerusalem and most importantly the temple in 587 B.C. to King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. Stroope’s wants us to experience the same range of feelings and ends his setting with a sudden overwhelming feeling of confidence and unleased power in the Lord and the strength of that relationship in difficult times.
Grace Before Sleep is Susan LaBarr’s interpretation of a poem by Sara Teasdale. This piece is tender and filled with lush harmonies. The peacefulness suggested by the music reinforces Teasdale’s theme that we need to be grateful, despite all odds, that we can be together and feel sheltered from outside forces.
Christus Factus Est was composed by Renaissance composer Felice Anerio, who succeeded Palestrina at the Papal Chapel in 1594. The piece is notable for its striking dissonances in the opening and for its effective use of suspensions. The text tells that because Christ became obedient for us unto death, God exalted him and gave him a name which is above all names.
Canadian composer David MacIntyre is no stranger as a composer on our concerts. His In Flanders Fields is a brilliant capturing in music of the sentiments of John McCrae’s famous poem.
The main work on this year’s concert occupies the entire second half of the program. It is entitled Crimson Stain was written in 2017 for the Halifax Camerata Singers by Canadian composer Larry Nickel. 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele, a vivd symbol of mud, madness and senseless slaughter. Also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, the soldiers were under almost continual rain and shellfire and often became lost on the blasted mud-scape, not knowing where the front line was. Private John Sudbury wrote, “The enemy and ourselves were in the selfsame muck, degradation and horror to such a point nobody cared any more about anything, only getting out of this, and the only way out was by death or wounding and we all o f u s welcomed either.”
Nickel has set this work in 11 sections for SATB chorus (with occasional solo sections), cello (Scott McKnight) and piano (Rod Epp). Composer Peter-Anthony Togni wrote that “Larry’s achingly beautiful harmonies and melodic sweep truly drew us into the story…It’s wonderful to hear well-crafted music that is truly written from the heart.” He goes on to say, “Remembrance music appropriate for the 100th anniversary of the battle of attrition could end up being very dark and intense, but Larry’s music doesn’t go there, at least not very often. He is able to smile at death. One of the movements is a lot of fun and makes use of a Vietnamese folk tale about a cat and a snake.” The piano and cello parts are “rich and rather romantic, but never too heavy or indulgent and the gorgeous themes are passed back and forth skillfully and elegantly.”
For his main text, Nickel chose a poem by a singer from his own choir, Larry Smeets. He also uses the poetry of Wilfred Owen and various texts from the Bible. The 11 sections are as follows:
- Day of Remembrance
- Crismon Stain
- No Greater Love
- Voices from the Earth
- Enemies and Allies (The Cat and the Snake)
- Move Him Into the Sun
- After the Storm
- Whiter Than Snow
- Crossing Over
As usual there will the traditional Act of Remembrance: For the Fallen, Last Post, Silence, Reveille and O Canada. Dean McNeill will be our guest trumpeter and Deborah Buck will be our reader in the afternoon and Eleanor Voegeli in the evening.
Please join us on Sunday, November 11 at either 2:00 in the afternoon or 7:30 in the evening at Knox United Church. We dedicate these concerts to “all of those who have gone before.”