Where are today’s great classical works about war?

Posted on: November 14, 2011

In Friday’s (11/11) Independent (London), Jessica Duchen writes, “Classical music’s responses to war regularly count among concert halls’ best-loved offerings, so strong and so universal is their message. From great musical juggernauts such as Britten’s War Requiem or Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, Leningrad, down to solo songs by Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth, war and the emotions associated with it crop up time and again among the finest creations of this art form. It is intriguing then that today, though 24-hour news coverage follows contemporary conflicts around the globe in unprecedented detail, the classical music we hear that responds to war still comes, chiefly, from the past. … Slowly, new pieces are emerging. Later this month, the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival will feature the world premiere of Mesopotamia by Richard Barrett, which is inspired by the ancient civilisations of Iraq. Maxwell Davies’s String Quartet No 3 is what he has termed ‘an unpremeditated and spontaneous reaction to the illegal invasion of Iraq’. The German composer Rolf Riehm has written a Piano Concerto with electronics in which statistics from the Iraq War are among several text fragments. But we have yet to hear any high-profile classical work that really tackles the human cost of the conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan. Is the challenge too daunting, because a climate of hypersensitivity, hysteria and over-reaction has become so prevalent?”

Posted November 14, 2011