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Epitaph VI: Vocalise Phoenix Rising (Coventry/Dresden)
On the evening of 14 November 1940 the British City of Coventry, in a raid code named Operation Moonlight Sonata, was attacked by the German Luftwaffe. The following morning a total of 568 civilians lay dead and the historic Cathedral of St Michael’s a burnt out shell. A new Coventry Cathedral was built and consecrated in 1962. The remains of the former still stand today as a constant reminder to all that venture around its now calm and peaceful grounds.
On the evening of 13 February 1945 the British Royal Air Force led an attack on the German City of Dresden. This was followed up by the American Air Force the following day. Dresden was known as the ‘Florence of the Elbe’ and was an ‘unprotected’ city. The firestorm unleashed on her was one of the most devastating ever known. Even the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not match the death toll inflicted there over half a century ago. It is impossible to clarify the loss of life in numbers: estimates vary but at least 25,000 inhabitants lost their lives. It puts Coventry into a kind of shade but both cities have links - the Frauenkirche in Dresden has taken more than fifty years to rebuild, Coventry replaced her old cathedral with a modern edifice, placed next to the ruins of the former, and both are twin cities sharing a terrible fate delivered from the skies – this binds and bonds them.
My Epitaph VI was written in memoriam for both Coventry and Dresden, victims of a world at war. Two quotations served as an opening inspiration:
‘Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot that it doth singe yourself.’ - William Shakespeare (Henry VIII).
‘I had not thought death had undone so many.’ - T. S. Elliot (The Wasteland).
Musical quotations form an integral part of this composition. They are there as symbols representing various aspects of the events. I have included their texts where relevant (often curtailed) in both the score and the performing material. These should serve as reference points to the journey of this brief (generally quiet) elegy for conductors and players alike. The Lamentation music is my own and most of the harmonisations of the quotations too. Certainly they have had to be revoiced in this context.
The first official performance was given by the Tennessee Tech Tuba Ensemble conducted by R. Winston Morris in the Carnegie Recital Hall, New York City, USA, on 28 January 2007 as part of the Ensemble’s 40th Anniversary Celebrations. It has been recorded by the same artists on the Mark Masters label (Legacy 6960-MCD) and also by the Portuguese Tuba Ensemble directed by Sérgio Carolino on the Afinaudio Records label (Veneno – How low can you go? AR2010).
The work was newly recorded in 2018 by the RNCM Tuba/Euphonium Ensemble directed by James Gourlay on the MER label. Please consult the composer’s website at martinellerby.com for further information on this and other recordings in the Epitaph series.
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