Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Armed Man

Station hopping as I was driving to Guildford yesterday, I was struck by a new piece of unfamiliar music for the first time since stumbling across a track from "The Melody At Night With You".

The presenter on Classic FM didn't identify the music once it had finished, but he did say that it had appeared at number 9 in the stations's 2005 Hall of Fame, which allowed me to identify it as 'Jenkins Karl: The Armed Man (A Mass for Peace)'. It should now be winging its way to me from Amazon.

With a little more research I was delighted to discover that that only living composer in Classic FM's Top Ten Hall of Fame is a Welshman living on the Gower coast, and that the Mass itself sounds right up my street:
The Armed Man - A Mass For Peace" is the result of a special millennial commission from the Royal Armouries and the latest in a six century old tradition of "Armed Man" masses that take the fifteenth century French song "L'Homme Armé" as their starting point.

According to Guy Wilson, Master of the Royal Armouries "The theme that 'the armed man must be feared' which is the message of the song seemed to me painfully relevant to the 20th century and so the idea was born to commission a modern 'Armed Man Mass'. What better way both to look back and reflect as we leave behind the most war-torn and destructive century in human history, and to look ahead with hope and commit ourselves to a new and more peaceful millennium."

Large scale in both scope and scale "The Armed Man" it is a profoundly moving yet very accessible work which uses the most traditional of means to explore an all too contemporary subject. As Karl explains, "As I started composing "The Armed Man" the tragedy of Kosovo unfolded. I was reminded daily of the horror of such conflict and so I dedicate the work to the victims of Kosovo" .

In a manner reminiscent of Britten's War Requiem, "The Armed Man" interpolates a number of different texts within the usual Mass form. Malory, Dryden, Swift, Tennyson, Kipling, The Koran and the Hindu Mahàbharàta contribute to a compelling account of the descent into and terrible consequences of war.

Karl was very moved and much inspired by Guy Wilson's selection of texts and in his music for "The Armed Man" has drawn on a similarly diverse array of cultural and historical sources. It's difficult to think of another composer who could successfully place a muezzin's call to prayer within a Mass setting and follow it with a Kyrie that quotes both Palestrina and Brazilian drum rhythms. That Karl does so with such ease and to such powerful effect is a tribute to his remarkable skill and musical sensitivity.
Now if I can only up the Welsh quotient by arranging to listen to it while resting my head on Katherine Jenkins' lap while she strokes my cheek, life will be complete.

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