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Giving a musical voice to wars unsung victims

Composer Sally Beamish has turned one of Andrew Motions war poems into a new oratorio. The former poet laureate explains their tribute to the damaged living

One of the best things about my laureate decade was the chance to collaborate with Peter Maxwell Davis, who was then Master of the Queens Music. We did a few things for events in the royal calendar, and a couple of larger and independent commissions as well: he set the five sonnets I wrote about Harry Patch, drawing on his own childhood war memories, and I wrote six more sonnets to drop between the movements of his String Quartet No 7, which is a meditation on the architect Francesco Borromini.

Id had other things set before, by Tarik ORegan and Jocelyn Pook among others, and enjoyed the experience very much. But the collaborations with Max, being larger in scale, made me think harder about what was involved. They made me reflect, for instance, on the various ways music can slow down words and make them hover in the mind, so the listener can concentrate on them more completely than might otherwise be possible.

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