Wartime Composers Remembered In Festival

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

The 2014 Canberra International Music Festival will be featuring many pianists who will perform works by famous and obscure wartime composers.

Performing the works will be pianists Tamara Anna Cislowska, Bengt Forsberg, Calvin Bowman, Timothy Young and former Canberrans Adam Cook and Daniel de Borah,

Named The Pianist, it takes its title from the award-winning 2002 Roman Polanski film about composer-pianist Władysław Szpilman – which featured none of his music. The concert will open with Szpilman’s Concertino for Piano and Orchestra (1940).

Festival director Christopher Latham said that in contrast to Szilman’s harrowing experiences in World War II – surviving the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, narrowly avoiding deportation to a concentration camp and relying on friends to hide him – “his music is extraordinarily enthusiastic and vibrant, like a Polish Gershwin”.

Another Szpilman work, a mazurka, will close the concert.

The French composer Alberic Magnard is remembered with the Australian premiere of his piece En Dieu mon espérance et mon épée pour ma défense – “In God my hope and my sword in my defence.”

Latham said, “Ironically it didn’t stop him getting shot by Germans.”

A German patrol had entered his yard in 1914 and he shot two from a window before they returned fire and burned down his house.

The Belgian André Devaere was wounded in the chest in November 1914, and died four days later at the age of 24. His Grave et poignant is also an Australian premiere, as are the works of two other indirect victims of World War I: the Nocturno (1917) by Portuguese António Fragoso who died in 1918 during the influenza pandemic at the age of 21, and the prolific William Baines’ Seven Preludes (1918-19).

In 1918 Baines was conscripted into the British Army, but within a fortnight was hospitalised with septic poisoning. The war was over by the time he was discharged and he never fully recovered his health. He died in 1922 at the age of 23.

But Reynaldo Hahn, who enlisted in World War I in his late 30s, not only survived it but also lived until after World War II: he died in Paris in 1947 at the age of 72. The Venezuelan-born Hahn was the onetime lover of writer Marcel Proust. He dedicated Pour bercer un convalescent: Andantino non lento (1916) to a sergeant with whom he served.

Some composers wrote pieces that marked events or memorialised music that might have been forgotten. Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No 7 (War Sonata, 1939-42), Bela Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances (1916) and Leo Weiner’s Hungarian Folk Dances (1941) helped preserve a lot of music that was never written down.

Frank Bridge’s Lament (for Catherine, aged 9 Lusitania 1915) was written in memory of a young girl aboard the passenger ship sunk by a German U-boat.

Latham said this year’s festival – his sixth and last as director in Canberra – had been years in the planning to coincide with the centenary of World War I. He believes much of the cost of that conflict has still to be realised, almost 100 years later.

He had several family members who served in wars and said this final festival and its theme were very personal to him and seemed a fitting exit after a period in which he felt he made his mark.

“It will show I had something to say.”


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