HPO Composer-in-Residence Abigail Richardson Schulte has been busy over the past year composing music to commemorate the First World War.

Her newest piece Song of the Poets makes its Hamilton premiere at the annual Yellow Ribbon Gala Dinner on Thursday, November 6.

Commissioned by the National Arts Centre Orchestra, Thunder Bay Symphony and Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra for the international WWI commemoration project The World Remembers, Song of the Poets is a six minute work for choir and orchestra based on excerpts from five poems written by soldiers of First World War.

These five poets come from four different countries on both sides of the war and their words are sung in their native languages of English, French, and German (optional English or French only). All of the poets write of loss and regret, as would be expected, but each poetically portray this with their own imagery using the sun, sea, poppies, fields, stones, etc.

Read about Abigail’s Song of the Poets and The World Remembers in The Ottawa Citizen.

 Watch a video of the Hamilton premiere of Song of the Poets featuring the HPO and McMaster Choir, filmed live at the Yellow Ribbon Dinner Gala on November 6, 2014 at the John Weir Foote Armouries in Hamilton, ON.

About Song of the Poets
Program Notes by Composer Abigail Richardson-Schulte


The piece is introduced like a ringing church bell with an excerpt from “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian John McCrae. The women sing much like a tolling bell: “In Flanders fields, the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row,” while the men hauntingly chant “We are the dead, short days ago we lived,” etc.

We then move directly into an excerpt from “Futility” by English poet Wilfred Owen who suggests how to wake a fallen comrade: “Move him into the sun. Gently its touch awoke him once.”

The soldiers that did survive the war often wished they hadn’t.  French writer Louis Aragon shows freedom only by escaping to the sea with it’s welcoming beautiful, glittering diamonds: “They dance, they sing, they open up their arms to him who weeps.” This poem is the only positive “major” music in the piece because it is the only text that shows a way out.

German poet Gerrit Engelke puts the sides of the war in perspective by placing a German soldier in conversation with a soldier on the other side. “And while you love your wife, I have and love one too” and “At leveled Ypern, did you die? So did you and so did I.” This text makes the sides of the war seem irrelevant: every person and every country suffered.  There were no winners, only losers.

French poet Luc Durtain wrote about being remembered as no more than “your” death. He told of stones wondering where “your” name would be inscribed, “your” favourite things soon forgotten” and “so soon, your death is all that’s left of you.” This poem is sung to the same music as the earlier French poem by Aragon, linking language to musical language.  The piece ends by recalling the Owen and McCrae, bringing the piece full circle to the beginning again.

These are not graphic poems of fighting, nor are they propaganda to gain support for the war effort.  Each of these poems looks at the outcome of war, told with the perspective of poets able to see beyond their own circumstances. The music is simple and narrative in order to best impart the text.  Each section has its own distinct musical themes however there are similarities to link each section together to form a unified piece, despite the language and perspective differences of five different voices.  We seamlessly follow their stories through place and time.

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