Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Karl Jenkins - Now The Guns Have Stopped

Karl Jenkins
Born 1944
For most of his musical career, Karl Jenkins has been known as a jazz musician, playing (unusually) the oboe in a jazz quintet. As a classical composer, his breakthrough came with 'Adiemus'. I chose to write about Jenkins because of his latest work: 'The Peacemakers', which is dedicated to the great peacemakers of the world such as Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela. However, I still believe that 'The Armed Man' is his best work by far.

With it's full title of 'The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace' the choral work is dedicated to the victims of the Kosovo crisis. A recent survey has shown that Jenkins' 'The Armed Man' is the most performed work by a living composer in the world today. I believe this to be because as well as being a work of genuine beauty and interest, the work is very accessible to musicians of all levels as the choral parts are not too challenging, and neither are the orchestral parts that accompany them. 

Most of the works included in the mass are set to typical Latin texts such as the 'Sanctus' and the 'Benedictus'. However, there are some sections in which the text is not typically religious, but instead relates more to the theme of war that is so prominent in the mass. One work in which this is particularly effective is the soprano solo, 'Now The Guns Have Stopped'. The text reads:

Silent, so silent now, now the guns have stopped. I have survived all, I who knew I would not.
But now you are not here. I shall go home alone; and must try to live life as before
And hide my grief. For you, my dearest friend, who should be with me now, not cold too soon,
And in your grave, alone.

This piece comes after the complete madness of the movement, 'Torches'. In contrast to the rest of the mass, the piece starts with slow and wistful held notes from the upper strings. In the introduction, the harmonies and rising suspensions of the strings create a chilling atmosphere that represents that of a battle. Interestingly, the strings come to a halt at 1.16 to reflect the words, 'silent, so silent now'. Jenkins even reflects the surprise in the speaker's voice on the words 'stopped' and 'not' by using unexpected chord changes. I believe this piece to be undeniably beautiful, as its haunting and suspenseful harmonies really reflect the true loss and grief portrayed already in the text. 

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