2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, the November 11th end of the Great War. The SSO will spend time during the year to explore the musical search and endeavour for peace.
In addition to extracts from the Ordinary of the Mass, the text incorporates words from other religious and historical sources, including the Islamic call to prayer, the Bible (e.g. the Psalms and Revelation), and the Mahabharata. Writers whose words appear in the work include Rudyard Kipling, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Sankichi Toge, who survived the Hiroshima bombing but died some years later of leukaemia.
The Armed Man charts the growing menace of a descent into war, interspersed with moments of reflection; shows the horrors that war brings; and ends with the hope for peace in a new millennium, when “sorrow, pain and death can be overcome”. It begins with a representation of marching feet, overlaid later by the shrill tones of a piccolo impersonating the flutes of a military band with the 15th-century French words of “The Armed Man”. After the reflective pause of the Call to Prayer and the Kyrie, “Save Us From Bloody Men” appeals for God’s help against our enemies in words from the Book of Psalms. The Sanctus has a military, menacing air, followed by Kipling’s “Hymn Before Action”. “Charge!” draws on words from John Dryden’s “A song for St. Cecilia’s day” (1687) and Jonathan Swift citing Horace (Odes 3,2,13), beginning with martial trumpets and song, but ending in the agonised screams of the dying. This is followed by the eerie silence of the battlefield after action, broken by a lone trumpet playing the Last Post. “Angry Flames” describes the appalling scenes after the bombing of Hiroshima, and “Torches” parallels this with an excerpt from the Mahabharata (book 1, chapter 228), describing the terror and suffering of animals dying in the burning of the Khandava Forest. Agnus Dei is followed by “Now the Guns have Stopped”, written by Guy Wilson himself as part of a Royal Armouries display on the guilt felt by some returning survivors of World War I. After the Benedictus, “Better is Peace” ends the mass on a note of hope, drawing on the hard-won understanding of Lancelot and Guinevere that peace is better than war, on Tennyson’s poem “Ring Out, Wild Bells” and on the text from Revelation (21,4): “God shall wipe away all tears”.
Our Armed Man performance features the Canadian Chamber Choir and Greystone Singers.