Symphony No. 4 ... War And Peace (2001) for soprano and orchestra

Thomas Oboe Lee

About this work:

Premiere performance: March 3, 2001 in Jordan Hall, Boston, Massachusetts

Peggo Horstmann-Hodes, soprano 

Civic Symphony Orchestra of Boston

Max Hobart, music director 

Program note: First of all, a huge embrace for Max Hobart who has been so very supportive by promoting and premiering new works for the orchestra. Since 1991, I have written three works for Max and the Civic Symphony Orchestra of Boston.

Symphony No. 4 ... War and Peace is my fourth contribution and this work is dedicated to Max.

A year ago, John Finney and the University Chorale of Boston College premiered my "Mass for the Holy Year 2000." It was a millennial commission by the Jesuit Institution for the community of Boston College. For that occasion I had originally planned to write a Mass whose texts would include both the Latin from the Ordinary of the Mass - Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus & Agnus Dei - and poems concerning the atrocities and senseless killing in warfare during the last century.

However, as it turned out, the poems I chose ended up reflecting the Latin text, which is all about faith and redemption. But I still wanted to write an anti-war symphony.

When I approached Max with this idea, he was very excited. Initially he was a little concerned that I might want to use the Tolstoy novel as my inspiration. I assured him that it would not be a four-hour symphony. In order to convey a political message through a symphonic work, texts set as songs are the most direct way.

For this symphony, I have narrowed my focus to poems written by veterans of the First World War - some euphemistically call it "the Great War."

The first poem by Rupert Brooke, "The Soldier," has an uneasy, patriotic cheerfulness to its message.

The second poem by Wilfred Owen, "Dulce et decorum est," is a more realistic view of warfare. Dying for one's own country is not so cool when the dead and the dying are staring at your face!!!

The third and last poem by Ivor Gurney, "To his love," reflects on the aftermath of war: peace, but at what cost!!!

Rupert Brooke (1887 - 1915) died on a naval expedition near the Greek island of Gallipoli. He died of blood poisoning.

Wilfred Owen (1893 - 1918) was wounded three times in France in the spring of 1917 and was sent back to England to recuperate. He returned to the Front, and was killed on November 4, 1918, just a few days before the Armistice was signed.

Ivor Gurney (1890 - 1937), a composer as well, was acutely sensitive to the horrors of the war and, after being wounded and gassed in 1917, he was sent back home to a mental hospital. He died twenty years later without ever recovering from the traumas of war.

And finally, I want to thank Peggo for singing so beautifully, to Kris Beckwith who keeps my spirit up, to Jennifer Stern who helped me track down publishers and the public domain issue, and to all the wonderful, present-day "Medici" who contributed to the "Sound Investment Commissioning Project." Orchestral music is alive and well in the 21st century!!!

Credits: All three poems can be found in the Dover Thrift Editions, "World War One British Poets." Poems used in this musical setting are in the public domain.


Rupert Brooke, 1887-1915: "The soldier" from The War Sonnets

If I should die, think only this of me:

That there's some corner of a foreign field

That is forever England.

There shall be In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;

A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,

Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,

A body of England's, breathing English air,

Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,

A pulse in the eternal mind, no less

Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;

Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;

And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,

In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.


Wilfred Owen, 1893-1918: "Dulce Et Decorum Est"

Bent down, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Men marched asleep.

Many had lost their boots

But limped on, blood-shod.

All went lame; all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of gas shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! -

An ecstasy of fumbling,

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,

And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime ...

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, -

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.


Ivor Gurney, 1890-1937: "To his love"

He's gone, and all our plans

Are useless indeed.

We'll walk no more on Cotswold

Where the sheep feed

Quietly and take no heed.

His body that was so quick Is not as you

Knew it, on Severn river

Under the blue

Driving our small boat through.

You would not know him now ...

But still he died

Nobly, so cover him over

With violets of pride

Purple from Severn side.

Cover him, cover him soon!

And with thick-set

Masses of memoried flowers -

Hide that red wet

Thing I must somehow forget.

Year composed: 2001
Duration: 00:25:00
Ensemble type: Orchestra:Orchestra with Soloist(s)
Instrumentation notes: Soprano and orchestra in three movements. War poems by Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen & Ivor Gurney.

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