Letters Home

Letters Home


for oboe and electronics (11’)

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Completed in July, 2018.

Commissioned by the Staunton Music Festival. Dedicated to Roger Roe, who performed the work’s premiere.

Text: excerpts from letters first published in Poems by Alan Seeger (1916). On the recorded track, these letters are read by Matthew Williamson.

Upon ordering, you will be emailed a download link to a ZIP file containing a PDF score, an MP3 practice file with click-track, and the prerecorded electronics file in WAV format.

In order to perform the piece, you will need software that can play WAV files (most computers can do this without special software), two speakers, and, optionally, a monitor speaker. The electronics can be triggered by the oboist or by another person.

Program Note

American poet Alan Seeger (the brother of musicologist Charles Seeger and the uncle of famous folk singer Pete Seeger) died fighting for the French in World War I before his country even joined the war. Driven by a love of Paris to enlist in the French foreign legion, Seeger served from August 1914 until his death from machine gun fire on the fourth of July, 1916. This piece, Letters Home, provides glimpses of Seeger’s wartime experiences, combining excerpts from his letters home with music played by an oboist and on a prerecorded track.

Wartime letters were necessarily vague — to make it past censors, they often omitted or obscured meaningful information about troop movements and locations. They were also intended to soothe — Seeger regularly reassured his mother that he was safe, and that even if he were to die, it would be a valorous death. But sometimes his brave façade cracked, particularly after he witnessed the brutal death of a friend.

Seeger was a Romantic in his poetry and in his outlook on war. But where he was looking for chivalry, honor, and valor, he was met with the arbitrary brutality of mechanized violence. This piece explores the tragedy of a promising, deeply emotional life subjected to (and ended by) such an impersonal process as war.