Pain Op.10

Composed: 1991
Duration: 5 minutes
First Performance: June 1992, at the Countess of Huntingdon’s Hall, Deansway, Worcester, given by Richard Pedley with the composer at the piano.
Available from: Novello and Co

Ivor Gurney’s sonnet ‘Pain’, is a bleak response to the anguish faced by many soldiers in the trenches of Flanders during The Great War. Uncompromising and, at its apotheosis, utterly despairing, its mood is one of horror and despondency at man’s cruelty to man, and his feeling of rejection by a supposedly caring God.

In his setting of Gurney’s poem, Ian Venables has attempted to mirror an already powerful utterance by creating a harmonic and melodic sound world which expresses the poem’s overall sense of confinement and despair. The work is heavily weighted in D minor, but is highly chromatic and almost aggressive in that chromaticism.

A low ostinato, semitonal figure adds to the sense of gloom and foreboding, with harsh, uncompromising chords breaking through. At the words ‘The amazed heart cries angrily out on God’, Venables repeats the words ‘on God’ three times, and at its final statement the tenor sings his only top A natural, fortissimo, while the piano moves semitonally to the chord of the flattened supertonic, thus creating a devastating discord and mirroring perfectly the poem’s final mood of abject despair and frustration at the horrors that can be faced by mankind.

Music Sample: Pain Op.10

© Ian Venables