The creation of “And Crimson Roses Once Again Be Fair”

Published: 25 November 2023

By Joseph Turrin
Special to the Doughboy Foundation web site


“And Crimson Roses Once Again Be Fair” premiered on Saturday, November 10, 2018, with the New Orchestra of Washington at the Church of the Epiphany in Washington, DC.

The cantata based on poetry from World War One will be performed December 3, 2023 at All Souls Church in Manhattan, NY

I had the good fortune of meeting conductor Alejandro Hernandes–Valdez several years ago, and on several occasions we met for lunch in New York City. At one of our lunches, he asked me if I might be interested in a commission to write a piece, a cantata, to be premiered in Washington, DC in 2018 to celebrate the end of the First World War, 100 years ago on November 11, 1918.

Joseph Turrin

The commissioning parties included Musica Viva NY, Washington Master Chorale and the NEW Orchestra of Washington. I of course agreed and after all the details were settled, I started to organize my approach.

My first task was to find the poetry that the cantata would be based on. At this point I was thinking of a 20-minute piece, divided into several sections. As I researched the vast amount of powerful, heart wrenching poetry I soon realized the scope of my 20-minute work could easily grow into a 50-minute composition, which it eventually did. I was also faced with the task of choosing what material to use and the necessity of disregarding so many wonderful poems. At the same time, I wanted to create a piece that had depth of contrast and would focus on poems that depicted various emotional vignettes written by poets from several different countries. Poets who fought, died, or were bereaved during the conflict.

Interestingly, rather early in my research the first poem I found was Perhaps by Vera Brittain, written and dedicated to her fiancé, Roland Leighton who was killed in the war just 4 weeks after his proposal of marriage. As I read through the poem, a sentence in the middle stanza caught my eye “and crimson roses once again be fair” and I realized this would be the title of the cantata. I eventually worked the piece into 14 concise but abundantly rich movements giving vivid snapshots of the war—reflecting its horror, beauty, profound sadness, and hope.

The cantata is scored for chamber orchestra, chorus and 2 soloists with poems by Charlotte Mew, Bruno Frank, Siegfried Sassoon, Alfred Lichtenstein, Wilfred Owen, Albert-Paul Granier & Vera Brittain. The piece opens with a short orchestra intro which segues into the poem May, 1915 by Chatlotte Mew “Let us remember Spring will come again To the scorched, blackened woods, where the wounded trees Wait, with their old wise patience for the heavenly rain”.  I also decided that this poem could conclude the piece with the closing lines “At one with Love, at one with Grief: blind to the scattered things and changing skies”.

The composing of this cantata was a cathartic experience for me. The dozens of poems I went through in my research led my down some dark corridors of sadness and filled me with the frustration of wondering how these deep and insightful words of protest, loss and remorse could be written by the same species that can create the pain and tragic hopelessness of war. I’m afraid my cantata holds no answers and really isn’t meant to. It just speaks to the heart of those who want to listen.

The premiere of the cantata took place in Washington, DC on November 10, 2018 and the next day November 11 in New York.

The next performance will be on December 3, 2023 at All Souls Church in Manhattan, NY, with Internationally acclaimed Mezzo-Soprano soloist Frederica von Stade. The complete cantata with Ms. Stade will also be recorded that week by Naxos Records, to be release sometime in 2024.

Anyone interested is seeing and hearing the complete 2018 Washington, DC performance of the cantata can find it at:

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