In the spring of 1992 I visited for the first time my grandfather’s grave on the Somme. At the same time I saw the extraordinary Thiepval Memorial, designed by Lutyens to commemorate the 73,000 or so soldiers missing on the Somme battlefields between 1916 and 1917. Though there is not the least attempt at descriptive or pictorial writing in this work, the objectivity of this great untriumphal arch is something that I have aimed at matching.
The piece lasts approximately twenty minutes and is divided into five sections: the first section and most of the fourth are for strings alone (there are ten each of violins, violas and cellos), with piano and harp. Underpinning the music is a pedal note, a constant C sharp usually in the bass register but often moving up through the orchestra, which persists until the final section, a forceful processional, which moves away from the staticness of the rest. Other landmarks are the percussion – entirely metal percussion – held back until the third section: and a kind of “refrain” of four chords, heard first near the beginning on piano and harp, and as the final gesture of the work.