The Christmas Truce

In the winter of 1914, after nearly six months of war, many of those fighting, and at home, were thinking about Christmas Day and wondering if there would be fighting and grim death and injury, as there had been on so many other days. The Sergeant, an experienced soldier, is unconvinced, worrying about discipline and fighting spirit. He starts a choir to raise morale. Over the succeeding scenes he is won over to the idea of a truce by a succession of characters, all played by another actor in an everyman role: a senior officer, a frightened young soldier, a chaplain, and finally a German. Through them and through the music the sergeant initiates the truce.

War and Christmas are both all-embracing experiences in their contrasted ways, and the Christmas Truce was a meeting that combined the two. In the play, the choir were part of the action, moving from place to place in the church, splitting in to smaller groups, taking solos and small spoken parts. The audience were surrounded, front and back and above, and had the action amongst them. At the end they sang with everyone.

Act I

Alex Roose sings the baritone solo “This is the truth sent from above” from Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on Christmas Carols.

truth from above alex roose

A stand-off, as the Officer insists there will be no truce on Christmas Day. “We fight every day, if we have to.”

officer and seargant stand-off

The Sergeant reassures the young soldier, and reads his wife’s letter for him, but we hear the letter read by a member of the choir playing the wife. The young soldier looks forward to Christmas Day.

young-soldier-looks-forward-sepia

“We’re hoping that the fighting might be able to stop, just for one day at Christmas. If I was the wife of a German soldier I would feel the same”

soldiers wife reads letter

sopranos-altos-the-snow-elgar

The Sergeant and the Chaplain after a burial service: “I don’t think they want to shoot someone on Christmas Day. I think they’d rather shake hands with them”

sergeant-and-chaplain

 

chelsea pensioners

The Sergeant laments his fate in the folksong “The Dying Soldier” (arr. Nigel Short):

To the Sergeant’s surprise, but great delight, the Officer opens a telegram ordering a ceasefire on Christmas Day: “As from midnight, there’ll be no artillery fire. Of course, the Germans may not be so accommodating”

telegram

Act 2

The Sergeant hears the German’s singing “A Great and Mighty wonder” in its original German, and recognises it.

[footage to follow]

“No, it’s the same tune but different words…I think I’ll give them a call. Can’t do any harm.”

choirs sing from the gallery

The meeting in no-mans land.

“Tommy, maybe there is something we can sing together?”

tommy and fritz meet

Both sides join in Silent Night:

The choir sings movements from Bach’s Christmas oratorio and Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on Christmas Carols.

They said the war would be over by Christmas.  It wasn’t.  In fact it was not over for three further Christmases. While the Christmas truce of 1914 was happening, the scope of the war was changing. In December 1914 the Ottoman Empire joined the war on the German side, leading to the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. The war on the Russian front progressed faster than the Germans had anticipated.  The Western Front hardly moved for three years, years which included the battle of the Somme, the introduction of tanks, bombs from the air, and gas.  The sense of camaraderie of the truce of 1914 was never quite recaptured.  But it was nonetheless a great and mighty wonder.

All forces join in the hymn A Great and Mighty Wonder – orchestration and descant by Ian Carpenter.


If you are interested in performing The Christmas Truce, please contact info@epiphoni.org.uk

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