The Choir is looking forward to singing The Armed Man by Karl Jenkins in Sheffield Cathedral on Saturday 17 November, with the National Festival Orchestra and soloists Nicola Hooke soprano, Hannah Mason mezzo soprano, Jeremy Dawson tenor and bass Thomas Asher. Jenkins wrote the work as a mass for peace, and many listeners find a live performance to be an extremely moving experience.
The work was a millennial year commission from the Royal Armouries in Leeds, and its text was researched and devised by Guy Wilson, then Master of the Armouries. It was originally intended for another Yorkshire-based composer, Pontefract-born Philip Wilby, who had to decline owing to the demands of other commissions, so the task fell to prominent Welsh composer Karl Jenkins. He tackled the challenge with relish, drawing on the styles and ambiences of music from earlier periods in a very special and original manner.
The verbal text comes from a great diversity of sources: the traditional Latin Mass, the poetry of Rudyard Kipling, the Psalms of David, the popular medieval French song, L’Homme Armé that provides the impetus for the work’s English title, Dryden, Mallory, Alfred, Lord Tennyson and the final book of the bible, the apocalyptic Revelation to St John the Divine; also featured are verbal extracts of Guy Wilson’s own devising and far Eastern poets.
Jenkins draws on the French folk melody of the title, Palestrina’s “parody” mass inspired by the secular song as well as Eastern originals in melody. Perhaps the most appealing number emotionally speaking, the Benedictus, has become a real favourite, as has the beautiful Agnus Dei.
The Spirit of England, Elgar’s great war-time choral trilogy, uses three texts of Laurence Binyon – The Fourth of August, To Women and For the Fallen. The latter contains the immortal brief stanzas used at so many acts or remembrance all over the English-speaking world:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn;
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning: we will remember them.
The same text is utilised by organist-composer Mark Blatchly in his setting for upper voices entitled For the Fallen, which ingeniously incorporates the evocative music of The Last Post.