David Power premiere explores poetry of First World War conscientious objector

August 8, 2017

The BBC's recent coverage of the centenary commemorations of Passschendale demonstrate the convictions held by a few at the time, and many now : why?  Over the course of 2018 we are remembering the futilty of war in general and the First World War in particular with various programmes, including an exploration of Flemish Renaissance 'Armed Man' tradition (Dufay, Obrecht, Josquin) in May, while in October we perform a sequence featuring Parry's Songs of Farewell and readings from the war diary of our musical director's grandfather, a medical orderly at the Somme.  The majority of poetry and music from the First World War is by those who experienced the horror of the conflict. By contrast, a work by David Power to be premiered at our forthcoming concert in the Late Music Festival, on Satuday 7 October, takes four poems by E.H. Visiak, a pacifist and and conscientious objector.  

 

 

From 1916, military service was compulsory for all single men aged 18-41, except those who were in jobs essential to the war effort, the sole support of dependents, medically unfit, or ‘those who could show a conscientious objection’.   The usual procedure for a CO was to apply to his local tribunal for exemption from military service.  Often the tribunal would turn down the request or provide the applicant with unsuitable 'jobs essential to the war effort'.  

 

 

 

 

The COs and their families came under extreme pressure from society,  with the British public's support for the war almost unanimous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

E. H. Visiak was born in London, and was a convinced pacifist.  During the First World War, he was exempted due to the work he did at the Indo-European Telegraph Company. However Visiak took the view that this meant he was doing war work so he took a brave and principled stance and resigned his job, registering instead as a conscientious objector. David Power's Four Visiak Settings contrasts two of Visiak's anti-war poems with earlier, more innocent work in an attempt to build up a musical picture of the 'journey' Visiak went on during this period of his life.  Visiak went on to have a successful and varied career in literature, from being a critic of John Milton to writing fantasy novels.  Milton quite succinctly asked 'For what can war but endless war still breed?' before rhetorically answering with ideals close to the heart of COs- 

 

      Till Truth and Right from Violence be freed, 

And Public Faith clear'd from the shameful brand 

      Of Public Fraud. In vain doth Valour bleed 

      While Avarice and Rapine share the land.

 

We are delighted to be working with David Power again, after singing his two Tarlo Settings at the Late Music Festival in 2015.  David was born in London in 1962 but spent most of his childhood in York. His initial interest was rock music. However, the electronic instrumentals on David Bowie’s ‘Berlin’ albums led him to become increasingly interested in more experimental music and, in due course, he discovered the music of composers such as Boulez and Stockhausen. This prompted a change in direction. He studied composition with Richard Steinitz, Steve Ingham and Roger Marsh.

 

His Three Chamber Pieces was premiered at the 1987 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and since then his work has been performed widely throughout the UK and, more recently, in Europe and the USA. He has received a number of commissions over the years and his work has been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 as well as on various regional radio stations. His work has also been used as soundtracks for art installations and short films, notably with artist Linda Ingham and film-maker Annabel McCourt.

 

 

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