The Flowers of War: Remembering the Lost Voices of World War I by Chris Latham
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The Flowers of War: Remembering the Lost Voices of World War I by Chris Latham

The Flowers of War: Remembering the Lost Voices of World War I. 2017 subscription series. theflowersofwar.org.

As part of the commemoration of the centenary of the First World War, composer and performer Christopher Latham has assembled a series of four concerts combining appropriately themed music and art at some of the national institutions in Canberra.

Alexis de Broca, A l'hopital: a partie d'echecs in The Flowers of War.

Alexis de Broca, A l'hopital: a partie d'echecs in The Flowers of War.

Photo: Chris Latham

The logo of a red poppy, white daisy and blue cornflower is intended to symbolise the bonds between Australia and France and the enormous cultural losses to these nations and to all the countries involved. Much of the music is by composers who served in the war, and some of them did not live to see it end.

On September 29 at 7.30pm and 30 at 2pm at the James O Fairfax Theatre, National Gallery of Australia, the first concert will be Monet's Flowers of War It will feature projections of Claude Monet's final World War I paintings, his water lilies series, completed as cataracts were sending him blind and, Latham says, representing the last flowering of French impressionism.

Wilhelm Morgner The path.  Kunst Museum. Bochem, Germany, 1912 in The Flowers of War.

Wilhelm Morgner The path. Kunst Museum. Bochem, Germany, 1912 in The Flowers of War.

Photo: Picasa
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"Monet made more war paintings in the First World War than any other artist," says Latham, who is artist in residence at the Australian War Memorial.

"He used an enormous lens, four or five centimetres thick, that allowed him to finish painting."

The concert program will be performed by Latham (violin and director), flautist Jane Rutter, cellist David Pereira and pianist Tamara Anna Cislowska and will include works by Jean Cras, a career naval officer as well as a composer, Phillippe Gaubert and Maurice Ravel, who served in World War I, and late pieces by Lili Boulanger and Claude Debussy, both of whom died in 1918.

On October 10 at 7pm at the High Court of Australia will be The Healers: a pocket opera about World War I nurses.

Claude Monet, Waterlilies, 1914-17. National Gallery of Australia in The Flowers of War.

Claude Monet, Waterlilies, 1914-17. National Gallery of Australia in The Flowers of War.

Photo: Picasa

"It was inspired by my grandmother, Beryl Churchill, who was a World War I nurse," Latham says. In two of the lead roles are soprano Simone Riksman as the Belgian Nurse and tenor Andrew Goodman as The Wounded Australian Soldier. Latham calls it a "jukebox opera": the music has been compiled from works by male composers who served in the war and the women who volunteered to help them including Lili and Nadia Boulanger, Ivor Gurney, EJ Moeran, Arthur Bliss, and Frederick Septimus Kelly, an Australian killed in the last days of the Battle of the Somme.

Latham has dedicated The Healers to his grandmother's memory. He grew up on the stories of her life as a suffragette and university student who worked as a night nurse during the war and was badly affected by it, suffering lifelong nightmares from the after-effects of spending so many nights in hospital wards with men dying around her while she was unable to offer much help.

"There's no documentation about post-traumatic stress disorder among nurses," Latham says.

"There was no reprieve – they were constantly nursing wounded soldiers."

On November 8 at 6.30pm at the High Court of Australia, 1917: The Night is Darkest before the Dawn will feature a preview of The Diggers' Requiem which will be presented in 2018 in Amiens, France, and in Canberra. It's a companion piece to the Gallipoli Symphony and the second in a series of Peace Symphonies Latham will be creating during his War Memorial residency. It features premieres of works by Nigel Westlake, Alex Lithgow, Richard Mills and Elena Kats-Chernin. But there will be other elements to the concert.

"1917 was a dark year in history," Latham says. There will be pieces to represent the 1917 battles of Bapaume, Arras, Bullecourt, the Russian Revolution, the French Army's revolt, the Birth of Finland, the Third battle of Ypres, Passchendaele and the charge at Beersheba. Among the contemporaneous works will be pieces by Louis Vierne, Kean Sibelius, Sergei Prokofiev and Ervin Schulhoff. The performers will be soprano Louise Page, mezzo-soprano Christina Wilson, the Sculthorpe String Quartet, pianist Caroline Almonte and trumpeter Paul Goodchild.

"It's a very big show – no small thing," Latham says.

Ron Cerabona

Ron Cerabona is an arts reporter for The Canberra Times.

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