In 1995 I was approached by the NZSO to write an overture to commemorate the recent death of New Zealand’s most famous war hero, Sir Charles Upham. Upham was famous for having won the Victoria Cross twice for bravery during World War II. He was, however, extremely modest when it came to discussing his achievements. Some years before his death it was suggested to Upham that he have a state funeral; he simply replied, “A bugle will do”. This comment seemed like a good starting point for my piece.
There are no bugles in the orchestra, but the opening section depicting the horrors of battle contains plenty of brass. Sub-titled Maleme and Ruweisat Ridge, the music is fast and furious, built from several motifs, and includes the opening rhythm for the most well known Maori haka (war dance), Kamate, kamate. The music builds to a climax, and the scene changes to a bleak Colditz Castle, where Upham was imprisoned during the war. While in prison he dreams of rural NZ, and the farm near Kaikoura called ‘Landsdowne’, where he eventually settled after the war. This brief pastoral section links into a coda celebrating the outbreak of peace. Motifs from earlier in the piece return but changed into brighter modes. ’
A Bugle Will Do was first performed by the NZSO in 1996 under Andrew Sewell, and was subsequently performed in the USA.
I. Preludio is based on the phrase heard at the start of the piece; elaborated with triadic harmonies. II. Variazioni is a simple intervallic theme with variations. Composed for guitarist Kazuhito Yamashita, who requested a piece for solo guitar. He first performed the work at Kirishima, Kyushu in February, 1996.
This work was inspired by seeing interviews with returned servicemen on the television programme New Zealand at War. The emotional power of their recollections of long hidden experiences led me to look for ways to express my feelings about the horrors of war. The setting attempts to make a stark contrast between the imagery of the poetry and the music.
(Ross Harris 1996)