For better or worse, there has always been a relationship between music and politics that has the potential to turn controversial. For example, former British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, after returning to Britain bearing his infamous ‘peace in our time’, received a piano from Julius Blüthner in October 1938, as a ‘token of gratitude from the people of Germany’. This very piano now resides in the house of Anne Stow, Chamberlain’s granddaughter, where, appropriately, a rehearsal for a world premiere about political language and song took place recently.
Monthly columnist for BBC Music Magazine David Owen Norris has composed a new choral piece inspired by political chants and slogans. Turning Points, for adult and children’s choirs, soprano, tenor and bass soloists, one or two pianos, electric guitars, brass band, organ & orchestra, is a 40-minute piece created in reflection of the rhythms and beats associated with protest and political chant.
Speaking on The Today Programme on BBC Radio 4, Norris talked today (12 August) about phrases taken from as early as the Magna Carta through to mantras from recent rallies in Ferugson, Missouri, which were generated from the death of Michael Brown in 2014. Norris found that certain rhythms were repeated again and again in different countries across the world, showing that some situations lend themselves to particular rhythms.
The composer’s website says this: ‘Celebrating the values of Democracy, Turning Points is a piece for many occasions, of private rejoicing or of public solemnity, in any year, at any time, and (its eclectic libretto being drawn from French, German & American sources as well as British) in any country.’
The piece is already scheduled for three performances, specially arranged to mark the historical events related to Agincourt, Wellington, and the Magna Carta. There is a clear sense of the community within these performances, with several church choristers and choral societies taking part in the performances.
Turning Points will receive its premiere at St Mary’s Church, Southampton, on Saturday 19 September.