As part of our SSO Remembers series, we’re honoured to present a performance of John Burge‘s Flanders Fields Reflections at our November 10th concert. The concert commemorates the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One, and John’s piece is a perfect way to capture the emotion of all Canadian’s reflecting on the impact of WWI.
That virtually all Canadian citizens and most English speakers in the Western world will immediately know that this musical work draws its inspiration from John McCrae’s poem, “In Flanders Fields,” is a good indication that this is perhaps the most famous poem ever written by a Canadian. Born in Guelph, Ontario, in 1872, Dr. John McCrae died in 1918 at Wimereux, France of pneumonia while on active service as a medical officer with the Royal Army Medical Corps in World War I. “In Flanders Fields,” was first published in the magazine, Punch, in 1915, and later appeared posthumously in a small volume of his poetry that bears the same title.
Flanders Fields Reflections is scored for string orchestra and is in five movements, each of which is titled with a phrase taken from the poem. The poem is remarkable in the way that it follows the fixed poetic form of the rondeau (which requires the repetition of the opening phrase at the end of the second and third verses) while expressing the extreme emotional gamut of loss, despair, sacrifice, obligation and hope. When one hears this poem recited at a Remembrance Day service, the words resonate with a depth that is transcendental in its power to convey what Wilfred Owen, another World War I poet, described as, “…the pity of war.” It is this resonance that the composer has tried to capture. At times, the music is literal in its approach, as with the wind effects in the first movement’s, “The Poppies Blow,” or the high, bird-like violin solo in the second movement’s, “Still Bravely Singing.” The middle movement’s, “We Are The Dead,” is captured in a slow funeral march while the final movement conveys the sentiment, “We Shall Not Sleep,” with a melody that keeps returning and an extended series of endings. The work’s most expressive music is found in the fourth movement’s interpretation of “Loved and Were Loved.” These few words represent so vividly, the individual tragedy that is contained within each and every death which is in stark contrast to the numerical tallies of war fatalities that can be summarized all too quickly. In this movement, a simple descending line of six notes is maintained throughout, as if to symbolically show that our search for love is perhaps humanities’ most constant desire. As the poem makes clear, we cannot forget that we are alive and free today because of those who gave up their own lives or loved ones.
The SSO’s audience last heard Burge’s work in the spring of 2017 when the SSO featured his work Four Seasons of the Canadian Flag as part of our all-Canadian concert.
For more information about the concert, or to listen to Flanders Fields Reflections, click here.