Charles Hamiltan Sorley (E)
Solo tenor, chorus
Brass Band: Soprano Cornet in B flat, Solo Cornet in B flat, Repiano Cornet in E flat, 2nd Cornet in B flat, 3rd Cornet in B flat, Flugelhorn, Solo Horn in E flat, 1st Horn in E flat, 2nd Horn in E flat, Baritone in B flat, Tenor Trombone 1 [in B flat], Tenor Trombone 2 [in B flat], Bass Trombone, Euphonium, E flat Bass, B flat Bass
Timpani.perc(4): vibraslap/SD/BD/vib/susp.cym(sizzle)/tam-t- strings(126.96.36.199.5)*
Strings can be optionally reduced (188.8.131.52.1)
All the Hills and Vales Along is an oratorio based on poems by Charles Hamilton Sorley who was killed at the Battle of Loos in 1915. He was born in Aberdeen in 1895 and his body of work is small, although John Masefield and Robert Graves thought of him as one of the most significant war poets.
My work takes five of his poems and sets them for tenor solo, chorus, strings and brass band. There are two versions; one for a quintet of solo strings, the other involving a full string section.
A main theme, long notes accompanied by sad chords, is presented on quiet strings before various marching themes strike up in the band. The first text (All the Hills) is martial, defiant and sardonic with matching music. This is followed by a short movement for singer and strings on their own, the nocturnal and reflective Rooks. When you see millions of the mouthless dead is a slow chorale-like movement for choir and band, but a quartet of high solo strings interject with free, floating music at crucial punctuation points.
A fast 'aria' for solo voice and strings follows, A Hundred Thousand Million Mites We Go. It evokes the chaos and fury of battle, but in the background there is the forlorn "sounds of hymns of praise" which clash with echoes of curses, snapping the air. The last movement To Germany points hopefully to a coming peace and resolution with old enemy, in music which brings the various different vocal and instrumental forces together in a more integrated way. Various threads from earlier movements are brought together with a new hymn-like melody, and the work ends with the main theme, this time blared out in the band, with distant chords on humming voices and strings.
Programme note © James MacMillan 2018
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer.