Christopher Richardson, bass soloist in ‘An Australian War Requiem’, shares his thoughts with us on what it means to him to be part of this event.
What did you find tempting about the invitation to sing in An Australian War Requiem?
Well, I consider it an honour to be asked to perform in the premiere of a work by a composer whom I respect. So upon being asked to perform in the world-premiere of such a significant work by Christopher Bowen – a work written to remember and honour those who gave their lives so that I could enjoy the freedom in Australia which we all do today – I felt greatly honoured and jumped at the opportunity.
Do you have a personal connection to the Great War?
I do have a relative who fought in the Great War—Robert Richardson, who was the brother of my great-grandfather William Richardson. At the time of the outbreak of the Great War, Robert was working as a blacksmith in Tasmania. He enlisted in 1916 and formed one of Tasmania’s 40th Battalion which was posted to the Western front. He was involved in trench warfare in Flanders in 1917, then in 1918 did an ‘anti-aircraft’ course and fought the same year in the Somme in France. Robert very fortunately managed to survive his time in the Great War and returned to Australia in 1919. At the time of his discharge, he was a Lieutenant Sergeant.
What is the most poignant (and enduring) image evoked for you by the words?
There are many images evoked by the text of this work—which are all powerfully moving and at times disturbingly vivid. However, for me the most personally impacting image evoked by the text is in the second part—‘Mothers and Sons’—where we hear the words exchanged in letters between a soldier on the front-line and his mother at home in Australia.
“Mother, it is now midnight and all around me I hear the sound of guns. I’m writing you this letter, I hope you get it safely. Don’t worry all is well… I wonder dear Mother if you’re well, not lonely or sad. I wonder, dear Mother, how long it will be till we see each other again. I don’t like this separation – it makes me so sad. Oh Mother, my dearest mother, I am so home and mother sick. All my love for you… all my love I send to you.”
“Oh my son how I long for you and to have you here at home with me and hear your happy laughter and your wild music again. You must come back to me… how I long to have you home again”
I think the reason I find this text so moving is that as I read it, I find myself empathising with the soldier—imagining what it would be like to be penning a letter in such hellish conditions to my own dear mother—on one hand wanting to be honest with how I was feeling, yet, on the other hand, comforting her and telling her that everything was ok so as not to cause anguish. Then, I see my own mother in the mother’s response—I hear her voice in those words from that mother—trying to encapsulate the extent of her love in words on a mere piece of paper.
What are you looking forward to most about the premiere on August 10?
At this stage, I’m most looking forward to the first rehearsal—to hear all of the elements I see on the page come together audibly! Regarding the premiere on August 10, I’m looking forward to hearing the work at its polished best—and being part of presenting it. I also look forward to taking the time in my own heart to remember, empathise, imagine and give thanks.
What is on the horizon for you now?
After being part of this exciting premiere I am looking forward to performing the role of Ptolemy, King of Egypt in the Canberra Choral Society’s Australian premiere performance of one of Handel’s lesser-known oratorios Alexander Balus in September. I am also greatly looking forward to performing the role of King Thoas in Pinchgut Opera’s presentation of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride at Angel Place in December.
Description of image
“The mud and slush throughout the Ypres Sector kept the feet of the troops in a continual state of dampness and caused the complaint of ‘trench feet’ to become fairly general. Members of the 40th Battalion, 10th Australian Infantry Brigade are seen here taking advantage of a rest at Dragoon Farm, near Ypres, after the Battle of Passchendaele Ridge, to bathe and oil their feet in order to obviate the malady. Identified, standing, left to right: 2311 Corporal (Cpl) Cyril Sydney Cosson (smoking cigarette, 1); 137 Lance Corporal (LCpl) G Bailey (2); 619 Private (Pte) F Clayton (3); 2136 Sergeant (Sgt) R W Richardson (4); 797 LCpl M E Cox (5); 2281 Sgt W Walker (facing camera with left hand doing up button of jacket, 6); 13595 Pte F Bell, Army Medical Corps (roll of bandage under left arm, 7). Sitting: 204 Pte A W Hunn (8); unidentified (9); 2562 Sgt H F Davis (10); 2297 Pte H L Booth (11); 2589 Pte A H Holmstrom (in front of Booth, 12); 84 Cpl O H Hansson (13); 5656 LCpl L M Badcock (partially obscured, 14); 2638 Pte T P Ready (15); and working on Badcock’s feet is 16650 Pte L H Smith, Army Medical Corps (16). See E00942K for position of those named in this caption.”
(Sgt Richardson is standing to the left of the soldier who has his back part turned to the camera and is pointing away; he is looking directly at the camera.)