Playing in their memory

<I>Living Democracy: the cultural cost of war</I> features David Pereira  on cello.
Living Democracy: the cultural cost of war features David Pereira on cello. 

History, music and diplomacy will be brought together in an event on Thursday at Old Parliament House. Living democracy: the cultural cost of war marks the centenary of the outbreak of World War I and the 75th anniversary of the start of World War II.

This preview event for the Canberra International Music Festival in May features composers who died in World War I – including music never performed in Australia – and a discussion by diplomats about the past, present and future of European international relations. Canberra International Music Festival director Christopher Latham says four ambassadors – Dr Christoph Muller (Germany), Stephane Romatet (France), Jean-Luc Bodson (Belgium) and Sem Fabrizi (European Union) – will speak.

Soprano Louise Page and pianist Phillipa Candy.
Soprano Louise Page and pianist Phillipa Candy. 

Latham and ABC Radio 666 presenter Alex Sloan, who has been presenting a radioseries related to the subject, will join the ambassadors to explore the cultural cost of war.

From their various national perspectives, the conversation will cover such ideas as the time of war being nearly over. It sounds optimistic, but Latham says the international reaction to recent events in Ukraine, with economic sanctions instead of military intervention, might be an indication of what is to come.

The European Union, he says, is a ‘‘supranational model’’ with members giving up part of their sovereignty and this could be adopted in such places as the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

The musical portion of the event features David Pereira (cello), Louise Page (soprano), Phillipa Candy and Elaine Loebenstein (piano). Latham has been preparing it for the past three years, researching in Europe and perusing the collection of his stepfather, Mark Honegger, who compiled the standard French music dictionary. Among the works to be performed is Morire (To Die) (1917) by Giacomo Puccini, to a poem by Giuseppe Adami.

‘‘It was written for an Italian Red Cross benefit collection, and Puccini later used it as an extra aria for the tenor in his opera La Rondine,’’ Latham says.

Puccini was not a casualty of World War I but other composers were.

The English composer Francis Purcell Warren was killed by a shell in France in 1916. He will be represented by his Adagio for Cello and Piano. Belgian composer Georges Antoine died of fever in 1918, two days after the Armistice. His song Crepuscule (Twilight) (1916-18) was one of many he wrote during bouts of illness that saw him discharged from service for a time, until he rejoined in 1918 despite fragile health. It will be performed in the concert.

Fritz Jurgens, a German composer, was killed in combat the previous year. Two of his songs, Fruehlingsankunft and Abend im Tal will be given what Latham says is their first performances since World War I: there is no record of them having been performed in the intervening years.

‘‘His music has been completely forgotten – we found the copies deep in the bowels of the British Library.’’

When World War I broke out, Lucien Durosoir was 36, and was one of France’s greatest violinists. He fought in the trenches for a year and then became a stretcher-bearer before attracting the attention of General Mangin, who recruited him, along with the composer Andre Caplet and the young cellist Maurice Marechal, to form a chamber music ensemble.

He turned to composing and the work to be performed in this concert, Berceuse (1919), for cello and piano, was the first piece he wrote after returning from the war. He died in 1955.

Living Democracy: the cultural cost of war. The Canberra International Music Festival. Thursday, April 10 at 6pm for 6.30pm. Admission $10, includes glass of wine. Kings Hall, Old Parliament House. Bookings: trybooking.com/EMWQ