Elegy is the latest of many recent releases commemorating the centenary of the First World War, and ANZAC more particularly.
All the works in this selection were composed in the early decades of the 20th century, and most have some association with war. Some, like Ivor Gurney’s In Flanders (1916), are direct responses to the horrors of WWI; George Butterworth’s settings of A Shropshire Lad, on the other hand, were written a few years beforehand by a young composer who perished in 1916 at the Battle of the Somme. Most of the composers represented are English or French, reflecting Australia’s colonial relations and/or connections to sites of combat. Highlights include Three Songs (1915) by Maurice Ravel, who was deeply traumatised by the devastation he witnessed while trucking supplies through war zones in France, and Frank Bridge’s Lament (1915).
Of particular note, however, is the world premiere recording of the work for which this collection is named, Australian pianist and composer Frederick Septimus Kelly’s Elegy – In Memoriam Rupert Brooke. Brooke, famous for his patriotic ‘forever England’ war poetry, died from sepsis en route to Gallipoli with Kelly and their friend William Dennis Browne, also a composer. Deeply affected by Brooke’s death, Kelly (pictured above) began writing his Elegy for strings at Gallipoli, amazingly, and continued while recovering in hospital in Egypt from combat wounds. He survived all this only to die in action during the final days of the Somme, and it’s impossible not to be moved by the deep melancholy of these sweeping strings and the circumstances of their tragic lament.
It’s eerily reminiscent of the opening work in this collection, Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending (1914), which evokes a pastoral idyll shortly to be permanently shattered.