BEWARE OF THE SOLDIER
BEWARE OF THE SOLDIER was written for George Bragg and the Texas Boys Choir. It was first performed by the Choir in Fort Worth, May, 1969. It was during this period that campus rioting was at an apex and emotions over the Vietnam War were running at their highest. Although the work could be labeled as "anti-war," the composition is intended more as a reflection of two aspects of mankind - childhood and innocence (as exemplifed by those wonderful music-making boys) and "manhood" and the warrior complex (the male chorus). There is a third important element which focuses the above toward the futility of war - that of the elegies (sung by a solo voice).
I do not wish to espouse politics either in writing or in some way musically (and it is extremely questionable whether music can be really political) except to mention that one of the (many) horrific aspects of man's war-history is the use of many devices to justify war-making, even, astonishingly, religion. The most devastating commentary on this malaise is the War Prayer of Mark Twain - a most horrifying satire. Twain himself decided against publishing his poem while he lived - "I have told the whole truth in that, and only dead men can tell the truth in this world." But men in all ages have cried out against the folly of war and this work (I am happy to note) draws its poetry from many sources in many periods ranging from Roman times (Tibullus) through St. Francis to 19th century authors Twain, Tolstoy and Hardy. The question of war, of armies, of military thinking, is not one of just our time but has concerned men in the same way through all ages.
For me, personally. I would like to think of BEWARE OF THE SOLDIER as a religious composition. The drama is hopefully found in the juxtaposition of the various elements - SONGS OF INNOCENCE, SONGS OF WAR. and the ELEGIES. The SONGS OF INNOCENCE are simple and tuneful - very tonal, non-intellectual - a satisfaction of this composer's urge to write relatively uncomplicated music. The SONGS OF WAR are in direct contrast - more dissonant and harsh. The ELEGIES are interwoven with a loose 12-tone structure - in my mind 12-tone music seems to have an overall melancholy to it.
Whatever messages are read into the work come primarily from the poetry, of course. My own are interjected through the choices, and, most important, the positioning of the texts. At first, the WAR SONGS are confident and urgent but then the attitude becomes modified as BEWARE continues (the tenor solos in WAR IS KIND, the subsiding final lines in WAR PRAYER and the whole of MAN AND ANGEL). The climax of the work is in the final male chorus - the most single important line being "Tall grass now is their monument." How true that wars and heroes are soon forgotten - the one eternal gift we have is the renewing of life embodied in the young.
Finally I would point out that accompanying L' Homme Armé, in the Epilogue are the same thoughts as the Haiku (now Tibullus) - "but rust lays hold of the grim weapons of the rough soldier in the dark." It is only left for the words of St. Francis to close: "Lord. make me an instrument of thy peace." This is a plea and the same benediction of Twain that bitterly chides the War Prayer now can be said in honesty and true love.
- Gregg Smith