November 11 marks the centenary of the armistice that ended World War I. That’s a powerfully symbolic anniversary – for all that it achieved, and for all that was lost.

When thinking becomes so disordered by the enormity of such concepts, the arts often step in with crystalline precision. Perth Symphonic Chorus’s Remembrance Day concert will be all the more potent for its representation of raw grief and subsequent hope by the music of Gabriel Faure and Vaughan Williams, and by the poetry of Walt Whitman.

Faure’s Requiem is well known and well loved. In was written over a decade and finally premiered in its present version in 1900 – 14 years before the start of the Great War. On a metaphysical level he mostly adhered to the Catholic mass for the dead, though he expedited passages. However, he was not unaware of the work’s impact as a piece of theatre.

He wrote of the work: “Everything I managed to entertain by way of religious illusion I put into my Requiem, which moreover is dominated from beginning to end by a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest.”

It is an entrée to Vaughan Williams Dona Nobis Pacem – or Give Us Peace, which some think is much more politically charged. It was first performed in 1936 as Europe and Britain began a dreadful waltz towards another bitter and devastating war.

Williams took the poetry of Walt Whitman, which was written during the American Civil War in the 1860s, and gave the narrator some heart-wrenching words to mouth.

For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead

Bends down and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin

There is no hiding behind any jingoism here. It’s simply a hard truth wrapped in some of the most moving music imaginable.

Williams also intersplices a speech given by parliamentarian John Bright in the British Commons in 1855 at the time of the Crimean War – “The Angel of Death has been abroad throughout the land; you may almost hear the beating of his wings”.

War is an ancient theme.

The Perth Symphonic Chorus is led by its director Margaret Pride who has worked tirelessly to make this a tribute fitting for such a special occasion.

Soprano Sara Macliver, who will be in First World War nurse’s uniform, and baritone Christopher Richardson in Great War soldier’s uniform, will interplay with the narrator, Perth actor Igor Sas in Dona Nobis Pacem. The choir and soloists will be accompanied by the Perth Philharmonic Orchestra, led by the supremely talented Paul Wright.

Let music be the balm.

http://www.perthsymphonicchorus.com.au/event/centenary/

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