Songs of Love and Battle (Children’s Vocal Score)
Scored for: Soprano and Baritone soloist, Upper Voice Youth Chorus (3 part) and Orchestra
Duration: 25 minutes
Additional Info: Songs of Love and Battle was commissioned by Opera North for their youth ensembles (Opera North Young Voices, Opera North Children's Chorus) in 2018. This dramatic micro opera depicts the conflicting emotions of war through the words and poems of Maggie Gottlieb. It tells the tale of a Yorkshire woman and her brother, who has been sent to fight in the War. Opera North’s young singers sang the roles of townspeople, English and German soldiers, mourners and narrators.
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Interviewed before the premiere Will Todd said:
“I was so excited to be asked to write a work for Opera North’s youth ensembles. I had heard a fabulous performance by the Children’s Chorus at the South Bank Centre in London in 2016 and I knew that this was a group who could perform with great energy and passion! As we approach the 100th anniversary of the 1914-18 War, which affected so many lives, and in which so many lives were lost, Maggie Gottlieb and I have been working on a piece which would remember, and in some way comment upon, that terrible conflict. Songs of Love and Battle provides a narrative on the pain and devastation of war, and a perspective on the young lives lost on both sides. With such brilliant young singers and the expertise of the creative and musical teams at Opera North, I know that the first ever performances in Yorkshire will be amazing events.”
Songs of Love and Battle received favourable reviews:
Songs of Love and Battle is a tonal piece, an interplay of innovative discordant orchestration, circling harmonic ornamentation and music of the period perfectly suited to the strident enthusiasm of Opera North’s various youth choruses and canorous phrasing of soprano Fflur Wyn and baritone Johnny Herford. As conductor, Farnes coaxes and cajoles with authority and skill, urging his musicians and singers to seize upon the bitter chaos and poignancy of Todd and Gottlieb’s collaboration.
Songs of Love & Battle is strong on the human reckoning of war: Gottlieb has said the conflict is ‘recent enough to still exist in the memories of most families, (but) distant enough for us to see it (as) a kind of explosion of the cumulative stresses caused by the power-struggles of a handful of jockeying imperial powers.’
The work ends almost as it begins, only this time it is not a zeppelin coming down in Northern England, but the balloon going up in Northern France. Cacophonous, cathartic, the intoning of casualty figures a litany of unimaginable enormity, it is testament to Todd’s writing for the youngest performers in the house that it is passionate and powerful, not trite and sentimental.
Songs of Love and Battle provides a narrative on the pain and devastation of war, and a perspective on the young lives lost on both sides,’ the composer has said. On the evidence of tonight’s concert, what it also offers is hope and that is one battle which is always worth engaging in. [Neil Mudd, City Culture, 4 December 2018]
Will Todd is a composer who is never afraid to employ the popular and straightforward and in Songs of Love and Battle’s half-hour of vivid music, dramatic evocations of the sounds of battle, emotional vocal solos and matter-of-fact statements from the Front jostled alongside uplifting songs of the day.
Using soprano and baritone soloists, massed children’s choirs and a generally orthodox symphony orchestra (the main oddities being the presence of an accordion and a very light woodwind section of three), Songs of Love and Battle set Maggie Gottlieb’s words in eight short parts, mostly about the build-up to the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The only earlier scene, a recruitment fair in 1914, was the most striking example of Todd’s merging of musical idioms, with a richly evocative treatment of It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, the Opera North Children’s Chorus marching boldly in their places.
The music proved accessible at all times, the final part – the approach of battle chanted over percussion – proved a suitably powerful conclusion, both Fflur Wyn and Johnny Herford sang their roles capably, Richard Farnes kept impeccable control of disparate forces, but the real heroes were the Children’s Chorus, Young Voices and Youth Chorus of Opera North, disciplined, committed and confident in music that was skilfully shaped to the abilities of singers aged from 8 to 19. [Ron Simpson, The Review Hub, 23rd November 2018]
Will Todd’s piece is extremely powerful and deserves to be more widely known. [Barbara Slaughter, World Socialist Website, 23rd January 2019]
Children's Vocal Score: ISMN 9790570700356