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War Music : SATB choir with orchestra

by James Ledger (2015)

War music


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War music / James Ledger ; text by Paul Kelly.

Library shelf no. 784.2/LED 4 [Available for loan]

Work Overview

2015 sees the one-hundred year anniversary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli. In two parts, War Music reflects on the horrors of war in the first part, contrasted with a solemn memorial in the second.

I was humbled on many occasions on writing a piece that commemorates those who were confronted by such a terrifying experience - I could only begin to imagine what it would have been like in reality. This produced the profound difficulty of trying to express the suffering and tragedy of war in purely musical terms. And added to this are the complexities of the myths and legends that surround the Gallipoli story. I therefore concentrated on the more broader aspects of war, hence the title.

The first part attempts to portray the brutality of war. It begins with a soft bass drum that unrelentingly thumps away in the background as the opening foreboding material unfolds. This breaks out into a torrent of cascading notes over low brass and strings. The music then settles in for a period of calm that slowly and continuously builds towards a more torrid outburst. This is followed by "screaming" glissando strings set against discordant winds. Then from out of the dissonance emerges a very soft minor chord. These final moments are a very oblique reference to the slow funeral-march movement of Beethoven's 3rd symphony.

In the second part, the orchestral forces have been considerably reduced, representing the great loss of life that war brings. There is however the addition of a choir. The text by Paul Kelly, is set from the point of view of the diggers who died at Gallipoli. It is a poignant and powerful reminder of the travesty of young lives needlessly cut short.

James Ledger 2015

Work Details

Year: 2015

Instrumentation: 3 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo, 3rd doubling piccolo & alto flute), 3 oboes (3rd doubling cor anglais), 2 clarinets in B flat (2nd doubling bass clarinet), contrabass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns in F, 3 trumpets in C, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, percussion (4 players), SATB choir (for Part II), celesta, strings (

Duration: 25 min.

Difficulty: Advanced

Commission note: Commissioned by Sydney Symphony, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

First performance: by Richard Gill, Sydney Symphony Orchestra at ANZAC Day Salute - Centenary Concert (Sydney Opera House, Concert Hall) on 22 Apr 2015

The work can be performed in two ways: Part I only, or Parts I and II together.


Performances of this work

24 Apr 2015: at ANZAC Day Salute - Centenary Concert (Sydney Opera House, Concert Hall). Featuring Richard Gill, Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

23 Apr 15: Auckland Town Hall, Auckland, New Zealand. Featuring New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, New Zealand Youth Choir, Benjamin Northey.

22 Apr 15: Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand. Featuring Benjamin Northey, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, New Zealand Youth Choir.

22 Apr 2015: at ANZAC Day Salute - Centenary Concert (Sydney Opera House, Concert Hall). Featuring Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Richard Gill.

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