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‘A Silent Night’ honors the early 20th century music of composers who served in WWI

‘A Silent Night’ honors the early 20th century music of composers who served in WWI
John Brancy and Peter Dugan perform in “A Silent Night: A World War I Memorial in Song,” which takes place at UC Irvine on Nov. 7. (Photo by Brent Cline)

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year 1918, the Great War, known since as World War I, came to an end.

On Nov. 7, UC Irvine will host “A Silent Night: A World War I Memorial in Song,” a voice recital of 26 songs spanning from 1914 (just before the war’s outbreak) to 1939 (just prior to the outbreak of World War II).

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Presented by UCI Illuminations, the Chancellor’s Arts and Culture Initiative, and the Claire Trevor School of the Arts Music Department, the show will feature performances by baritone John Brancy and pianist Peter Dugan, both Julliard graduates. The duo made their professional debut in 2014 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D. C.

“A Silent Night” is about the experience of war, honoring the composers who served and, in a few cases, who didn’t survive.

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Such as George Butterworth, an Englishman killed in battle by a sniper in 1916 at the age of 31. Among his best-known works are his pastoral settings of some of the 63 poems that make up “A Shropshire Lad” by A. E. Housman. Butterworth’s 11 settings, published in two volumes, date from 1911-12.

And there’s the music of Francis Poulenc, who served in both world wars and wrote “Bleuet” in 1939 to a posthumous poem by Guillaume Apollinaire, who died of influenza just two days before the Armistice. The song’s title was slang for French soldiers of the war.

The majority of “A Silent Night” sticks to 1913-19 — but the 1818 Christmas hymn that the title of the program references is an exception.

“It was sung by the English-speaking soldiers as ‘Silent Night’ and the Germans as ‘Stille Nacht,’ ” Brancy said. “It was Christmas Eve 1914, and they all started coming out of their trenches. The fighting had by then stopped … It symbolized a Christmas truce and it was the music that brought the people together.”

Unfortunately, the truce only lasted that night.

“A Silent Night’s” lineup also includes rarely-performed lieder (German songs) by Carl Orff, as well as two of American avant garde composer Charles Ive’s “Three Songs of the War.”

“Our program is set up as England-to-Germany, intermission, France-to-America,” Brancy said.

Brancy and Dugan perform “A Silent Night” 8 to 10 times a season, usually on concert stages but occasionally even in hospitals.

“As this continues, we’re hoping to do more outreach events at VA centers to give back to the community and bring awareness to those suffering from PTSD,” said Dugan.

“We found so many of these songs, we couldn't fit them all on one program. So we came up with a second recital program, sort of a sequel: ‘Armistice: The Journey Home,’ which tries to answer the question: What do you do once the the war is over?

Michael Rydzynski is a contributor to Times Community News.

IF YOU GO

What: “A Silent Night: A World War I Memorial in Song”

Who: John Brancy, baritone, accompanied by Peter Dugan, piano

When: 6 p.m. Nov. 7

Where: Winifred Smith Hall, Claire Trevor School of the Arts, UC Irvine

Cost: Free admission (but tickets required)

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