Masterworks 4: The Armed Man - A Mass for Peace
Program Notes – by Douglas Dunsmore, choral conductor and former conductor, PCNSO
If someone were to suggest that a musician who played keyboard, saxophone and oboe in “Soft Machine,” a 70’s progressive rock and jazz band would become one of the 21st century’s most popular writers of choral and orchestral music, it might raise a few skeptical eyebrows. However, Karl Jenkins did exactly that. Born in Wales (1944) he studied music at Cardiff University and later at the Royal Academy in London. His compositions include The Armed Man (1999), Requiem (2005), Stabat Mater (2008), Te Deum, Gloria (2010) The Healer (2014) and Lamentation (2018).
The Armed Man is not presented as a traditional mass – rather, it consists of texts from the ordinary of the mass interspersed with settings of additional texts throughout. These added movements vary in styles and length, emphatically supporting the direct anti-war message viscerally present throughout. In concept, it espouses many of the sentiments expressed in Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem and Britten’s War Requiem, but artistically, it is very much a 21st Century anti war statement, employing widely diverse aural and visual concepts unique to music composed in the past 30 years.
Dedicated to the victims of the Kosovo crisis. Jenkins overlays rhythmic and melodic material, much of which based on the 15th century iso-rhythmic motet “ L’Homme Arme” especially in the first and last movements.
Some of the features of this work include the chorus “marching in place” with the military fife, extensive use of visual images on big screen, and innovative techniques for voices and instruments which all evoke imagery to expand upon the horrors of war.
In contrast, the Benedictus, perhaps the pivotal movement of the work, begins with a haunting cello solo providing some of the most powerful, sublimely beautiful movements of the work, moving the listener’s focus toward healing.
Jenkins concludes the last movement by recalling the biblical promise that time -and God- will wipe away all tears. While this segment is much calmer than what precedes it, there is a sadness present, a yearning for more peace and less warfare on earth, a worthy goal for us all.
Ironically, the first CD recording of this work was released on September 10, 2001 … historically linking it to the new form of warfare that was unleashed the very next day.
The Armed Man
*not traditional mass texts
- The Armed Man*
- Call to Prayers (Islam)*
- Kyrie (Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy)
- Save me from Bloody Men* (Chant-like prayer for deliverance)
- Sanctus (Holy art thou, Hosanna in the highest)
- Hymn Before Action* (Fear and anticipation of battle)
- Charge!* (Wild forging ahead … the major thrust of attack)
- Angry Flames* (Scenes of mangled survivors)
- Torches* (Burned animals, alive but still on fire after the attack)
- Agnus Dei (Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us)
- Now the Guns have Stopped* (Realization of intense personal loss)
- Benedictus (Blessed are they who come in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest)
- Better is Peace* (Ring out the False, Ring in the True … God shall wipe away all tears. Bless the Lord)