Saturday, March 28, 2015

August Offensive

Continuing my series of program notes:

Andrew Schultz (born 1960)
August Offensive, Op.92

August Offensive had its premiere at the ANZAC Day dawn service at Gallipoli, Turkey on 25 April, 2013. The work was commissioned by the Australian government’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs as a part of the Centenary of Gallipoli Symphony project. The project, directed by Chris Latham, has involved the commissioning of new works by Australian, New Zealand and Turkish composers to eventually form a full-length work for performance in 2015 - the centenary of the ANZAC landing.
- Andrew Schultz

In terms of Australia’s First World War observances the date that stands out is April 25th, the date on which Australian and New Zealand troops (ANZACS) first landed on Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915. But Andrew Schultz’s August Offensive takes its subject matter from events later that year.

By August, Anzacs and other British imperial troops remained dug in to the cliffsides at Gallipoli, British and French troops had a toe-hold on Helles Point on the southern tip of the peninsula. The Turkish Offensive of 19 May had failed to push the Anzacs ‘back into the sea’, and it was decided that the Allies should hazard another push inland. The plan included diversions at Lone Pine and Helles Point and an attack at The Nek (the climax of Peter Weir’s film, Gallipoli). The main force was to take Chunuk Bair (Çonk Bayırı) and Hill 971 and secure the Turkish heights while the British landed reinforcements and began climbing up from Suvla Bay. 

Below the heights. Suvla Bay in the distance, to the north.

Atatürk lookout on the heights
The plan failed dismally. The attacks became unco-ordinated; some troops even got lost in the ravines leading up to the heights. At the Nek within half an hour on 7 August, 234 men lay dead and 138 wounded in ‘an area no longer than a tennis court’. While New Zealanders, with British units, captured Chunuk Bair, the Turks forced the Allies off. First Lord of the Admiralty Churchill had predicted ‘a military episode not inferior in glory to any that the history of war records...’ By 17 August, General Hamilton had to admit that this Offensive had failed. Later in the month there were costly and ultimately fruitless attempts to break out of Suvla, and these were the last major battles of the Gallipoli campaign until the Allied withdrawal in December.

Adelaide-born composer Andrew Schultz has written a number of works expressing horror at war and violence. His 2001 opera, Going into Shadows deals with terrorism. Beach Burial is a choral setting of Kenneth Slessor’s great World War II poem about the makeshift burial of bodies washed ashore after a great sea battle. A lot is wound into August Offensive’s unremitting seven minutes. You might note the sound of the suspended cymbal - dry and crisp ‘like the sound of diggers digging on hard dry ground’. Having read the military history of the events, Schultz was struck by the constant digging that went on during the months on Gallipoli. The piece also begins and ends with a whistle blast - an idea taken from the trench whistles used to signal attack. So the piece is in some ways the battle scene. The technical-minded may hear polymetres but there is violence as well as lament for those events in August 1915 that cost so many young lives. 

Gordon Kalton Williams, © 2015

This note first appeared in a program booklet for a Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra concert on 27 March 2015. Please contact me for permission to reproduce it.

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