Eternal Light – The Concert
On 15 May this year, in Paisley Abbey, Bearsden Choir will be joined by Chorus Niagara to perform two wonderful choral works. The first is a traditional mass, composed as a celebration for the life of a loved one and the second, a requiem, written, not for the dead, but for those who are left to grieve.
Beethoven wrote his Mass in C major in 1807, as a commission for Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy ll, to celebrate the birth date of his wife Princess Maria. It is one of the least often performed of Beethoven’s larger works yet it has been described as, “a long-underrated masterpiece.”
Howard Goodall – Eternal Light: A Requiem. Many composers have written a requiem, a mass for the dead, in which they offer prayers of deliverance for the souls of the departed. Eternal Light looks at death from a different perspective. It reflects upon the agony and the emptiness which accompany the loss of a loved one and the desolation and despair that must be endured by those who are left to mourn. Premiered on Armistice Day 2008, Goodall has skilfully woven the words of the Latin Mass with poems in English to create, “a breathtakingly beautiful piece of music. “
One of these poems,” In Flanders Fields,” was written by a Canadian military doctor, John McCrae, who was born in Guelph, Ontario, only 60 miles from St Catharines – the home of Chorus Niagara.
Eternal Light – Remembrance
Canada and Scotland have enjoyed a close – knit and staunch association for centuries.
Culture, education, business are but a few of the links which bind us together. Sadly, however, over the years, history has seen fit to forge and temper one particularly sombre yet wholly inspiring alliance, military service in time of war. Generations of men and women, Canadian and Scot, have served, fought and died side by side. South Africa, two World Wars, Korea and countless other actions have exacted their toll. Even now the harrowing spectre of Afghanistan continues to haunt both nations.
The Spanish author, C R Zafon wrote, “As long as we are being remembered we remain alive.” Remembrance is a ceremony more commonly observed on a cold, crisp Sunday morning in November. This concert will, we hope, be performed on a warm spring evening in May and I am sure that you will agree that Remembrance should not be consigned to the bleak mid winter but that it should be ever present and eternal.
On 15 May, while poppies bloom in Flanders, choirs from Canada and Scotland will join together to sing and to remember ever mindful of the significance of the Poppy. There will be a collection in aid of Poppyscotland and The Royal Canadian Legion.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and I look forward to welcoming you to our concert
Eternal Light – Why the Poppy ?
The winter of 1914/15, the first of the Great War, had been bitterly cold, the French countryside lay lifeless, ravaged by fierce and bloody fighting – it seemed as if the very soul of the soil had been laid bare. Yet, as if to make amends for this bitter winter of war, the spring of 1915 was the harbinger of cloudless skies and glorious sunshine. Indeed, it is said that, early in the morning, it was possible to hear birdsong in the stillness ‘twixt salvo and shell-burst.
Europe was in the grip of war yet, the warm spring weather together with the broken earth would help create a magnum opus of the 20th Century – the Poppy, the image that was to become the single most eloquent, most enduring indeed, eternal, symbol of Remembrance. Though its colour is redolent of blood and suffering, the Poppy’s dogged determination to flower was seen as a symbol of hope and regeneration.
Poppy seeds will lie dormant in the ground for years, germinating only when the soil is disturbed. Farmyard, field and forest, scarred and devastated by the folly of man, afforded just such “disturbance.” The madness of war would encourage the propagation of this tiny flower. The pitiless pock-marked wasteland of the Western Front, the cemeteries, the countless solitary graves, together, would provide a fertile birthplace. Sun, soil and, paradoxically, war, would help awaken the slumbering seeds. Poppies would bloom, be blown and, perhaps, offer a flicker of hope to soldiers, cast adrift in an ungodly, desolate landscape.
The sight of these delicate, vibrant red flowers growing on the shattered war torn ground caught the attention of one particular soldier – Major John McCrae, MD Canadian Army. The grandson of Scottish immigrants, he was one of the most highly respected Canadian physicians of his generation and he was also a poet.
On May 3, 1915, McCrae presided over the funeral of fellow Canadian soldier, 22 year old, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer who was from Ottawa. Helmer, a friend and a former student of McCrae, had been killed by shellfire the previous day. During the burial service McCrae noticed how Poppies appeared to flourish in the broken soils of the battlefield and how like tiny crimson sentinels, they stood watch over the graves of the fallen. The death of his friend and the image of the Poppy moved McCrae to compose some of the most memorable lines of war poetry ever written – “In Flanders Fields”
This short, poignant poem would enshrine the Poppy as the unique symbol of Remembrance. The delicate, blood red flame would never be extinguished. John McRae had pressed the petals between the pages of history and entrusted the Poppy to Eternal Light.