The structure of this work is somewhat different from that of traditional symphonies using the “Golden Ratio” as a means of determining the movement lengths with the first around 6’, the second 9’ and the third and longest movement around 15’.
The first movement is largely rhythmic and violent, depicting panic and chaos. George Butterworth’s beautiful song “Is My Team Ploughing” from “Songs of a Shropshire Lad” is quoted in this movement and is especially poignant as Butterworth was killed on the Somme in 1916 at the age of 31. Emptiness and grief describe the atmosphere of the 2nd movement. The narrator’s text quotes directly from letters written by my great-grandfather, Arthur Major to his children. He was killed in the 3rd battle of Passchendaele in 1917. The soprano text is a Latin translation of the line “My heart is so shattered, I don’t know whether it is broken or not”, from a WWI soldier.
The third movement combines violence, fear, confusion, beauty and exaltation.
The narration texts are from soldier’s letters and journal entries from many different nationalities — written from Gallipoli, Belgium and France. No matter the side, the sentiments are the same. They all speak of horror, fear and a desire for peace. The Wilfred Owen poem “Arms and the Boy” that runs throughout this movement, speaks of the unnaturalness of giving deadly arms to boys.