Jonathan Pitkin

EVERYONE SANG for high voices and chamber orchestra (2002-3)

Duration: 12 mins
Click here to see the VOCAL SCORE.

Everyone Sang was written for the chamber choirs and orchestra of St Albans High School as part of the spnm/Making Music scheme Adopt a Composer, which pairs emerging composers with amateur performing groups, with the aim of creating new repertoire and strengthening links between the new music and amateur sectors. The piece is in three movements, each setting a poem by Siegfried Sassoon: Concert Party, Dead Musicians (both 1918) and Everyone Sang (1919).
Sassoon is best known as a First World War poet, but although these poems all refer at least obliquely to that conflict, each is also concerned in some way with music. The first is an eerily atmospheric description of a concert given behind the lines for the soldiers’ entertainment. The narrator of the third has his spirits lifted by hearing a burst of song, only to realise that it is no more than the cry of birds. In the second poem Sassoon tells of his youthful idolisation of the great masters of music history – Bach, Mozart and Beethoven – before revealing how little they have consoled him since the death of so many of his friends in the War. In fact it is ragtime that his memories of them most vividly call to mind.
I have set to music by no means every word of these texts. Often this is for the sake of concision, but sometimes the words seem to speak too strongly for themselves, and defy any attempt to emphasise or rephrase them. Where this is the case, the instrumental element of the music can be seen as an attempt to respond to or translate these parts of the poem. This applies particularly to the end of the second movement, where the entire final verse of the poem is left unsung as an extended orchestral postlude propels the setting to its climax.
The relatively simple language of the poetry is reflected in the clearly audible, sustained melodic lines sung by the choir, which are coloured harmonically and rhythmically by the orchestra. I have tried to create music which is economical yet atmospheric, slow-moving yet strongly directed.