Epitaphs of War
Epitaphs of War, a work for choir, organ, and soloists, was commission by Con Anima Chamber Choir especially for this Remembrance to mark the 100th Anniversary of Armistice. This year in particular, much thought has been given to those who fought and gave their lives in the First World War. Great poets such as Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, Ivor Gurney as well as others have commented on the gruesome and bleak scenes that they experienced. Often when the subject and pity of war are described, it is in the context of front line battle and enemies slaying their foes. I was intrigued by a selection of poetry by Rudyard Kipling - six epitaphs - that highlight other senseless casualties in war: such as death through disease, women who were raped, friends shooting friends by mistake, mother’s dying through grief of an only son, and ones killed during their sleep.
To open the work, the organ plays one note in the pedals: D. From this, an anguished, rocking harmony low in the organ begins and the choir softly emerges from this backdrop singing “Dulce et decorum est” (“It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country”)— as a nod to the poem by Wilfred Owen. The inclusion of the latin text along with the selection of six epitaphs by Kipling attempt to offer two ideologies in conflict: the latin text from the Roman poet Horace which praises the idea of sacrificing one’s life in war for one’s country contrasting with the sombre and descriptive poetry from Kipling displaying the pain and sorrow of war. The final section of the work ends with a selection of text from a poem by Siegfried Sassoon, “Have you forgotten yet?…” This poignant text pleads with the listeners to”swear by the slain of the War” to never forget the war itself or those that perished.