Seven Sorrows of InnocenTS
The British establishment has long honoured the military servicemen and women who were killed in the many wars that Britain has been involved with, particularly during the twentieth century. The Poppy Day appeal has become a regular feature of British life, as have the services of remembrance at home and abroad. This regular feature of the monarchy at the Cenotaph, and the general focus on soldiery, made me feel uneasy, as it always seemed to be honouring the poor dead soldier (quite rightly) but simultaneously showing tacit agreement with war and violence, as there was never any attempt to balance the message with some explanation of the negative effects of such cataclysmic social upheavals. Neither was there ever any clear mention of the innocent victims of war, the number of non-military personnel who were killed, the number of refugees, the homeless, etc.. A cursory search gives the numbers killed in WWII as: Battle Deaths 15 million; Civilian Deaths 45 million (see note). Surely we should recognize the immense tragedy of innocent deaths as much as those who died in a military capacity, otherwise society is not being fair to its citizens, and honouring them all as equals.
This has been in my thoughts for many years, and like many artistic endeavours it was part of a sequence of events that culminated in the idea of a series of cantatas commemorating the innocent deaths that have occurred in events in my lifetime. When I was reading a biography of the poet Ted Hughes, and his poetry, I came across the poem The Seven Sorrows, which deals with the way that nature shuts down in autumn, and the animals that suffer at the hands of man. This led to thinking about the innocence of animals and the environment, and how they have suffered, but then also to the innocent people who died in the war, and war in general, and consequently to researching texts and poetry that might fit my ideas for seven separate pieces. Looming in the background of those pieces that have been concerned with war was the War Requiem by Britten, of course, and I was very conscious of the effect and message it delivered, although I did not want to emulate such music. It is obviously modeled on a Christian catholic requiem, and deals with the effects of war on the soldiers who fight themselves, and is very much an ‘establishment’ way of treating the subject. I never felt that the music portrayed any anger about the way that people were treated. I wanted to focus on how war affects others in society, the mothers, fathers, children, siblings, etc., as well as the innocent people who lost their lives, or suffered in some way. Gradually, however, I came to realise that there were many events in my lifetime that caused innocent people to suffer, and I widened my search to find the seven events that I personally recognised as being momentous in some tragic and sad way, and which should, in my view, be remembered by inclusion in the Seven Sorrows series. Those seven events were: World War II, the Vietnam war, the Aberfan tragedy, the Tiananmen Square massacre, refugees, the degradation of nature, and the Holocaust. The personal experience of seeing newsreels and photographs of victims such as the little ‘Napalm Girl’ running away from her burning village having been burned by napalm herself, and the desperate way that fathers and colleagues dug frantically to get to their buried children at Aberfan, was all formative in feeling the need to say something about such things, to bear witness to such tragedies, all of which have been brought on innocent people by other people. I said earlier that I wanted to include events that had happened in my lifetime, and although the Holocaust and the Second World War were played out before I was born, they have obviously been of immense importance in the history of mankind during the twentieth century, so I felt that I had to include them.
Taking the broader view, of course, reveals the fact that mankind is violent, and violent not just against itself, in wars, persecution, and such like, but also against the very haven on which we live. This is entirely illogical and beggars belief, that for intelligent humans we seek to destroy the same isolated island on which we depend for our lives, rather like the gardener who cuts off the branch of the tree on which he sits. This exhibits stupidity, obviously, and I cannot help thinking that it is the stupid people of this world who are doing the damage, because they do not have the insight to realise that they are sitting on the branch. It is time that humanity became civilized, for the good of humanity, and the planet: our lives and future generations depend upon such transformational living.
[World War II deaths: (www.nationalwwIImuseum.org; cited 18/7/2022)].