'A strikingly atmospheric score' The Guardian

Instrumentation

2.2.1.bcl.2 - 2200 - perc(1): large militiary drum/hi-hat/BD with foot pedal/susp.cym/tam-t(+bow) - CD controls - upright pno/Cel - strings (minimum 14.4.4.2)

Availability

Score 0571537561 on sale, parts for hire

Programme Notes

No Man's Land follows on from my very positive collaboration with Christopher Reid on Alphabicycle Order several years ago. The origin of the work was a phone call from Richard Hickox in November 2008, full of his usual bubbly enthusiasm and proposing a Proms commission to celebrate the City of London Sinfonia's 40th birthday. Like everyone, I was shocked to learn of his sudden death 3 days later. Richard conducted my first ever Proms perfomance, in 1983, and clearly the work had to be written in his memory.

I have been obsessed with the First World War for some while (my grandfather died on the Somme) but it's a difficult subject to treat musically - I've set Edmund Blunden (in my choral work Aftertones) but have avoided setting other war poets, particularly with the example of Britten and Wilfred Owen in mind. When I asked Christopher Reid to provide the text for this work, I suggested the concept of a soldier in the midst of war, almost unaware of what he's found himself in. In the event his sequence of poems provided something different: the ghosts of two soldiers hang on barbed wire in no man's land. 'To pass the time, we let the wind/rummage in the hollows of our skulls/for memories and scraps of song and whisps of rhyme'. The work is divided into two parts, and last approximately 25 minutes.

Reviews

'A memorial to the losses of the first world war, of which Matthews’s grandfather was a casualty.. Matthews has provided a strikingly atmospheric score, regularly drawing on the idioms (and sometimes the actual recordings) of marches and sentimental songs of the period in an approach that recalls Mahler’s use of similar material to equally ironic effect. The final impression is of a subject drawing something powerfully distinctive from Matthews in its alternation of detached emotional observation and compassion.
The Guardian (George Hall), 22 August 2011

'The music at the outset conjures up evanescent images that take shape as the piece progresses. Matthews deploys sounds redolent of his subject, be it an out-of-tune piano or the gallows humour of wartime ballads, and he even calls on period recordings of marches and of Edna Thornton singing the patriotic song Your King & Country Need You from 1915. Enhancing the music’s poignancy, these facets are woven in to the fabric of a piece that is imagined with a sure dramatic touch and a deeply affecting compassion.
The Telegraph (Geoffrey Norris), 22 August 2011

'Intercut with honky-tonk piano and snatches of authentic, crackly gramophone records, the orchestra’s misty, sustained lines are coloured by multiply divided strings. Matthews’s delicate, elegiac score is heard as if through a thick white gauze suffused with the scents and sounds of memory.'
The Observer (Fiona Maddocks), 28 August 2011

'Combining live orchestral textures (including an out-of-tune upright piano “of the kind that might have found its way to the Western Front”) with recorded military marches and popular songs of the day, Matthews’s music mirrors the fragmented rag-bag of images, the “memories and scraps of song and wisps of rhyme” that make up Reid’s poem…'
New Statesman (Alexandra Coghlan), 24 August 2011

'A feeling of remembrance is everywhere in this piece, not least because it so strongly recalls Britten’s War Requiem with its two soldiers walking “friendly up to Death”. There are echoes of Berg and Mahler, too, as Matthews brings in a honky-tonk piano and parodies of popular songs.'
Financial Times (Richard Fairman), 23 August 2011

 

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