String Quartet

Inspired by the events of the opening months of the First World War (1914-1918), the quartet seeks to depict on an emotional level three of the countless episodes that set the stage for the four-year struggle that lay ahead.

I.  “August 1914.” The summer of 1914 was one of the most pleasant experienced on the European continent in many years. Though rumors of war circulated, most citizens were not overly concerned as there had been no war in Europe in more than a generation. With the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, the machine for conflict was set in motion, but even at that most people reacted to the coming war with a sense of jubilation, believing that it would be a short war that would settle many longstanding national grievances. Young men enlisted in droves with great enthusiasm, and fêtes often were arranged for many a send-off. But the realities of war soon became evident, and the young soldiers and their families came to see that the conflict would be a protracted one. They prepared themselves for a bitter winter with an outcome that remained yet unknown.

II. “The Church of St. Nicholas at Dixmude.” In the early weeks of the war, a great (but little-remembered) battle was fought in and around the Belgian town of Dixmude (modern-day Diksmuide). A small and tranquil settlement, the city’s pride was its Church of St. Nicholas — a beautiful parish situated in the center of town. During the German bombardment of 1914 the edifice was destroyed, but the spirit of the church, and of the Belgian people, lived on.

III. “The Angels of Mons.” With the sudden onslaught of the German advance, the Belgian, French, and British armies were driven back in a prolonged retreat so that the very gates of Paris were threatened. To all observing the progress of the war, it seemed certain that Paris soon would fall and the Germans would emerge victorious. But then what became known as the “Miracle on the Marne” transpired when the seemingly unstoppable German advance was abruptly halted as a result of a stiff defense orchestrated by General Joffre and his staff. During the battle a legend grew that British and Belgian soldiers witnessed angels descending from the sky wielding swords in the defense of Paris. Some said that it was St. George, others that it was St. Joan d’Arc, and still others that it was simply a host of angels. The legend has been determined to have been a fiction of a British writer at the time, but it has lived on in the annals of the history of the war. But even with the sudden end of the German advance, the soldiers by now realized this would be a long war, and the quartet concludes with the anticipation of still four more years of bitter struggle ahead.

The quartet is dedicated to the Messerkvartetten of Copenhagen. The score is available from Wolfhead Music.

mp3s of the Sibelius playback:
I. August 1914
II. The Church of St. Nicholas at Dixmude
III. The Angels of Mons

Copyright © 2006 by John Craton

The Messerkvartetten

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