Alan Seeger: Instrument of destiny
Oratorio by Patrick Zimmerli
Saturday 2 December 2017, at 8 pm
Based on excerpts from Alan Seeger’s diaries, letters, and Last Poems. Set for tenor (Scott Emerson), men’s choir (Pasiphaé, directed by Loïc Pierre), jazz piano (Edouard Ferlet) and percussion (Jean-Baptiste Leclère).
I have a rendezvous with Death…
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.
Just a century ago, watching from afar, America saw Europe plunge into the First World War. The United States ended up playing a key role in the fight, but quite a few Americans did not expect their country to officially take part in the war in April 1917. Moved by a boundless admiration for French culture and the values of liberty it stands for, fifty or so Americans volunteered in the early days of the conflict. Amongst them was the poet Alan Seeger.
Born June 22nd 1888 in New York, and brought up in a family passionate about art and music, Alan Seeger studied at Harvard and graduated in 1910. After spending two years in the artistic community in Greenwich Village in New York, then two years in the bohemian American expat circles in Paris, he signed up for the Foreign Legion in August 1914. For the twenty-six-year-old idealist, fighting for liberty and dying at the front was the most noble fate one could attain.
Over the course of his two years of service in Champagne, in Aisne, and in Alsace, he wrote his best poems, as well as letters, and kept a diary. His writings were both carefully detailed and eloquent about the atrocities of war, and passionately glorified the ideals they were fighting for. Seeger was killed during the first days of the Battle of the Somme on the 4th of July 1916, the United States’ Independence Day.
An oratorio at the crossroads of cultures
Seeger’s destiny draws a political and artistic line between the Old and the New Worlds. In this regard, Alan Seeger: instrument of destiny, brings together French and American artists in an oratorio mixing two musical traditions emblematic of both worlds: European opera and American jazz.
Imagined by French director Mirabelle Ordinaire and scored by American composer Patrick Zimmerli, the oratorio finds its inspiration in Alan Seeger’s poems, letters, and diary entries. The American tenor Scott Emerson plays the young poet, and the men’s choir, Pasiphaé, directed by Loïc Pierre, portrays Seerger’s fellow soldiers in the trenches.
The oratorio follows Alan Seeger’s journey in the war as a legionnaire and is structured in six parts :
1 Off to war
2 In the trenches
4 Friends and enemies
6 Rendezvous with death
On the 4th of July 1916, Seeger went to the rendezvous he had made in his most well-known poem, “I have a rendezvous with Death”. In 2017, for the centenary of the United States joining the Great War, we are honouring the work and the destiny of this inspired yet unjustly forgotten artist, a seasoned idealist who sacrificed his life to ensure the freedom of future generations.
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