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Michael Nyman

Publisher: Chester Music

War Work: 8 Songs with Film (2014)
Chester Music Ltd
Large Ensemble (7 or more players)
Year Composed
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Programme Note
Michael Nyman War Work: 8 Songs with Film (2014)
The 'Eight Songs' are essentially a song cycle presented in two groups of 4: the first group preceded by 4 instrumental movements and the second by 6. The texts were written by World War 1 poets all of whom, apart from the English painter-poet David Bomberg, lost their lives during the war.

The songs take their starting point from the title of a series of poems by the French poet Gaston de Ruyter (who was shot down in his planes as late as 7 October 1918): ‘Chansons vieilles sur d’autres airs’ (‘Old songs to other tunes’). The ‘chansons vieilles’ are the poems by English, French, German and Hungarian poets (all sung in their original languages apart from ‘Csak Egy Eiszkara…..’ and the ‘autres airs’ are by English, French, German, Austro-Hungarian, Polish and Italian composers of the 17th and 19th centuries:

Song 1. Urtod, August Stramm (1874-1915): Rossini, Petite Messe Solenelle, Kyrie
Song 2. What’s left of the Soldier-man, David Bomberg (1890-1957): Beethoven, Violin Concerto, second movement.
Song 3. Kinder vor einem Londoner armenspeise Haus, Ernst Stadler (1883-1914): Orlando Gibbons, The Lord of Salisbury his Pavin and Galiardo
Song 4. Haidekampf, August Stramm: Schubert, Sonata No. 15 in B flat, second movement.
Song 5. L’Adieu du cavalier/The Cavalier’s Farewell, Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918): John Bull, Bull’s Goodnight.
Song 6. For just one night, Geza Gyoni (1884-1917) (in an English translation by Watson Kirkconnell of Csak Egy Ejszkar)
Chopin, Prelude No.15 in D flat, middle section
Song 7. Louse Hunting, Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918): Cesar Franck, Violin Sonata No.1 in A, first movement
Song 8. Abschied, Alfred Lichtenstein (1889-1914). Schubert, Sonata No. 15 in B flat, second movement.

The ‘film' has been designed mostly around footage selected from the French, German and US WW1 film archives that were (financially) available to me and my editor, Max Pugh. There are two significant references, neither of which attempt to define the work. On the one hand, when I first saw the archive film I was immediately and inevitably reminded of the 1920s silent films I have written scores for (after all Paul Strand’s ‘Manhatta’ and Vertov’s ‘Sixth Part of the World’, let alone ‘Battleship Potemkin’, were made less that 10 years after a lot of this war footage was shot. And on the other hand certain aspects of the War Work film relate, maybe distantly, to the Body-as-Machine (or non-machine) in my operas ‘The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat’, ‘Facing Goya’ and ‘Love Counts’ and my song cycles ‘Body Parts Songs’ and ‘I sonetti lussuriosi’.
Michael Nyman 2014

The loudness and strain in the sound became expressive, and brought out the agonised quality in many of the images, especially those which showed mutilated soldiers being fitted with primitive prosthetics, or trembling uncontrollably with shell-shock. Most of the pieces written to mark the centenary of the War have set out to wring our hearts, rather than make us think. Nyman’s does both, magnificently.
Ivan Hewett, The Sunday Telegraph,14/12/2015
It's an eloquent and sometimes strikingly beautiful piece
Andrew Clements, The Guardian,11/12/2015
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