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Julian Marshall is a true musical polymath whose career spans platinum-selling pop – with acts including Marshall Hain, The Flying Lizards and Eye to Eye – to compositions that embrace an eclectic mix of classical and jazz influences.
The Angel in the Forest, composed for tenor James Gilchrist, is one of a series of works by Marshall inspired by the poetry of Gertrud Kolmar. This series is known as the Welten Project after Kolmar’s 1937 collection, the Welten Cycle. Kolmar, who was killed at Auschwitz, was an extraordinary woman whose tragic biography is belied by the vibrancy and immediacy of her poetry, with which Marshall feels a special affinity. For The Angel in the Forest, Marshall worked closely with Gilchrist to create new music that reflects the beautiful fluidity of the tenor’s voice, as heard on this recording. The result is a unique and moving testament to Kolmar’s – and Marshall’s – ability to find light in the darkness.
THE ANGEL IN THE FOREST
Julian Marshall (b.1954)
Original poem by Gertrud Kolmar
1. Give me your Hand
2. Come, Autumn
3. Because the Sun
5. Your Arms
James Gilchrist, tenor
Chamber Players of the Philharmonia Orchestra
(Philarmonia Cello Sextet)
The Rupa Ensemble
The central inspiration behind the works of The Welten Project is exploring the idea that we do indeed live at ‘a frontier between light and dark’. Gertrud Kolmar’s vivid reflections on human experience, set as they are among the unspeakable oppressions of 1930s Germany, offer a profound vehicle for exploring these themes. The Welten cycle presents a compelling opportunity for creating work of re-imagination and ekphrasis – plus, in addition, act as a springboard and inspiration for wholly original work. Despite being written in 1937, Kolmar’s Welten cycle offers a body of work of remarkable universality and abundant resonance with our world today.
Art’s remarkable ability to evoke the multi-hued ambiguities of experience, to lay bare the ‘radical mystery of existence’ as J F Martel puts it, speaks to qualities that, in my view, become immediately recognisable in Kolmar’s work – and throw down a most compelling gauntlet to any artist or composer following in her wake.
The Angel in the Forest, following on from Julian Marshall’s first Kolmar Cantata, Out of the Darkness, is also taken from the Welten cycle and serves as the text for Julian’s second Kolmar Cantata. It offers a disturbing if understated glimpse into the nightmare world about to engulf Europe.
As with Out of the Darkness, The Angel in the Forest suggests that a new life can be found in an escape from the city. But refuge is to be discovered not in the mountains but in the countryside which holds the promise of an innocent, perhaps even prelapsarian world, with its “musing fields”, flowers and grass: a place where the animals “don’t speak evil”. And yet at the heart of this poem, is something perhaps even more disturbing than Out of the Darkness because the early promise of hope bound up with the protagonists’ ability to escape, is slowly eroded at every turn.
The Angel in the Forest appears to offer its readers little or no solace other than the imagined possibility that comfort-from-hardship could still be found in a steadfast companion. But even that promise appears to be cut away at the end of the poem. “We will thirst and hunger, suffer together / Together, one day, sink down by the dusty wayside verge and weep…”. And yet this powerful ending seems also to suggest an allusion to the opening of Psalm 137: “By the rivers of Babylon / There we sat / sat and wept / as we thought of Zion”. If this was Kolmar’s conscious intent, then it is precisely through this final reference that the poem succeeds in turning its moment of despair into yet another promise of something “other”. By transposing the allusion away from the waters of Babylon onto the dusty wayside of a seemingly infinite road Kolmar might well be suggesting that even at the depth of despair this place of the poem’s ending is, in fact, merely a resting place: a place to take stock, in order to remember “Zion”, to mourn for what is lost and thus, through renewed strength, continue onwards.
This is Julian Marshall’s second passionate engagement with another significant fragment from Kolmar’s neglected and often forgotten writings. As in his first cantata, Julian has again paid tribute to the poet’s remarkable and powerful feminine creativity and, in so doing, succeeds in commemorating Kolmar’s life so cruelly silenced at the very moment she seemed to be about to peer into and articulate its very depth.
© Philip Kuhn, September 2018 – abridged from programme note
Julian Marshall grew up immersed in many styles of music: from Mozart, Stravinsky and Bartók to Buddy Holly, Dave Brubeck and The Beatles. Then, as now, he was less interested in separating these artists into genres than in what they had to say: “I just heard it as music: different evocations of narrative and experience.” This defiance of genre has characterised Marshall’s career. What interests him is the way poetry and music “can evoke memory, experience, mystery” as well as “highlighting the ever-important ambiguous nature of experience”.
Marshall recalls that in his pop years (c.1977–1990), “I was in love with the amazing growth of popular music – from rock ’n’ roll in the 1950s to this vast panorama of popular music by the turn of the century.” With Eye to Eye especially, he explored the possibilities of what was most appealing to him in that genre. But then came a period of not knowing what to write: “I couldn’t find my voice”.
The turning point came in 2007, when Marshall discovered the poetry of Gertrud Kolmar. “She was speaking a language that I was magnetically drawn to. It made so much sense – and yet she was writing in the 1930s in the direst of circumstances”. Marshall was struck by Kolmar’s ability to point to something beyond the words themselves; to create “a context, a world”.
The ambiguity of Kolmar’s texts finds its way into Marshall’s music, which embraces influences from jazz to Messiaen and much more besides. In The Angel in the Forest, there’s “a paradoxical pull, a dissonance between poetry and music”, such as the first movement’s tension between the subject matter, which is about fleeing, and the music’s walking bass. Marshall is drawn to the way Kolmar mixes “an apparently direct experience with something surreal, dreamlike or fantastical. One can be unsure as to whether she’s reporting autobiographically – from memory or in real time – or creating metaphor and fantasy. That sense of not knowing is very powerful. Kolmar did not run away from shadows, and her vibrancy in the face of darkness fills me with enormous inspiration – and hope.”
Shortly after graduating from the Royal College of Music in 1975, Julian’s professional life as a composer and songwriter took flight with the internationally successful bands Marshall Hain, The Flying Lizards and Eye to Eye.
His compositions include work for film and theatre and a new chapter as a composer of longer-form work (specifically, the cantatas Out of the Darkness and The Angel in the Forest), along with other, shorter, choral-based pieces, began in 2009.
Out of the Darkness and The Angel in the Forest both feature settings from Welten, the seventeen-poem cycle by Gertrud Kolmar.
With the addition of two further works from the same cycle (the film, Yearning, and the spoken word and music piece, Garden in Summer), in October 2021 Julian founded The Welten Project. The project’s mission is to conduct research and produce a series of works inspired by, re-imagining or setting poems from Welten.
For further details about The Welten Project, please visit www.julianmarshall.co.uk
In addition to composition, Julian teaches and coaches creatives of all ages.
He works with clients privately and is also a Teaching Fellow at ICMP, London.
Tenor James Gilchrist began his working life as a doctor, turning to a full-time music career in 1996. His musical interest was fired at a young age, singing first as a chorister in the choir of New College, Oxford and later as a choral scholar at King’s College, Cambridge.
His extensive concert repertoire has seen him perform in major concert halls throughout the world with renowned conductors including Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Sir Roger Norrington, Harry Bicket, Harry Christophers and the late Richard Hickox. He is considered a master of English music, and equally at home in Baroque repertoire – the St John and St Matthew Passions feature prominently in his schedule.
Highlights have included singing the role of Rev. Adams in Britten’s Peter Grimes for Deborah Warner’s acclaimed production, in company debuts at the Teatro Real, Madrid and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, as well as with Bergen Philharmonic and Edward Gardner with performances at the Edinburgh International Festival, Royal Festival Hall, Grieghallen and Den Norske Opera; Haydn’s Creation for a staged production with Garsington Opera and Ballet Rambert; a European tour of Bach’s St John Passion with Bach Collegium Japan and Masaaki Suzuki, and a return to King’s College, Cambridge to perform St Matthew Passion as part of Stephen Cleobury’s final Easter week as Director of Music.
James’ impressive discography includes recordings of Albert Herring (title role), Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel, and solo disc Solitude with pianist and long-time collaborator Anna Tilbrook, including a new work by Jonathan Dove, all for Chandos Records, St John Passion with the AAM, Vaughan Williams On Wenlock Edge, and Britten’s Winter Words for Linn Records, and the critically-acclaimed recordings of Schubert’s song cycles for Orchid Classics.
Chamber Players of the Philharmonia Orchestra:
(Philarmonia Cello Sextet)
Karen Stephenson, principal
Members of The Rupa Ensemble:
Miranda Ostler, mezzo soprano
Jack Harberd, tenor
David Valsamidis, bass
Julian Marshall, director & bass
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