The Cortège

Cecil Coles
Language: Instrumental

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While in uniform, Coles continued to compose, though, owing to the extenuating circumstances that prevailed, he did not aspire to the same ambitious scale of his pre-war orchestral works. A movement, ‘Triste et gai’, from his Fünf Skizzen for piano was orchestrated, and The Sorrowful Dance for piano was composed and sketched for orchestra in short score. Behind the lines, a four-movement suite for small orchestra, appears to have been begun in November 1917. The autograph manuscript of the first movement, ‘Estaminet de Carrefour’, in pencil is dated 3 November 1917 and was sent to Holst for perusal at or around Christmas of that year. Holst conjectured that ‘the other movements were destroyed by a shell during the retreat in March 1918’; he was partially correct. Two of the movements—‘The Wayside Shrine’ and ‘Rumours’—were never found, but a short score of the third movement, ‘Cortège’, survived with some indications of instrumentation.
Though slighter in stature than their more substantial orchestral forebears, these two beautifully crafted movements have a special poignancy and intimacy in the composer’s slender output in that they communicate something of Coles’s war experiences. ‘Estaminet de Carrefour’ (‘coffee-house, or tavern, at the crossroads’) provides a sketch of a northern French pastoral landscape, away from the horrors of the front. This is depicted in the outer sections where the amiable melodic material and its accompanying drone (or musette) is evocative of the folk music of Normandy, while the waltz of the trio suggests a more civilized, refined ‘Edwardian’ environ­ment, perhaps of a dance in dress uniform in the local town. The ‘Cortège’, on the other hand, provides us with a heroic picture of a military funeral procession, one of many that Coles no doubt witnessed in the three years he spent in the trenches. Its most haunting significance, however, is that it also movingly symbolizes the composer’s own ultimate sacrifice in April 1918 when he joined that ‘roll of honour’ of young musicians—George Butterworth, W C Denis Browne, and Ernest Farrar—whose talent remained unfulfilled.

Contributed by Dq82 - 2016/6/20 - 16:22

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