After a short break over summer, King Harald's Saga has come back into my life in full force as I prepare for a performance at St. John Smith Square's 24 hour music marathon on Saturday. Every time I re-visit this piece I am on the look out for new inspiration and last week that inspiration was certainly found at British Youth Opera's wonderful production of Owen Wingrave. Britten's opera asks us such pertinent questions about war and how we regard our 'heroes' and it got me thinking...
How does an audience, or indeed - Weir's Icelandic sage - relate to Harald? Do they laud him? Do they pity him? Do they despise him?
From the opening of the work, we know that things are going to end badly. Yet against the warning of his brother's ghost, and the weeping of his two wives - Harald leaves for the battlefield. Is this to prove his courage - to prove that he is not afraid of ghosts and dreams? Or is it because he truly believes in the glory and fulfilment of war? All these themes come to the fore in Owen Wingrave, and yet Weir presents them in a seemingly more ambiguous light. Whilst Britten's pacifism is clear from the off-set, it is not until the final lines sung by Weir's Icelandic sage that the audience are asked to step back and reflect on the necessity of war. It is with this troubling issue that Weir's audience leave the theatre or concert hall.
It is a year and four days since I first picked up the score of Weir's King Harald's Saga. At the time, I took one look at it and banished it to the pile of things to do another day (this was with an impending performance in six weeks time...) Since then, I have had the pleasure of performing it six times in full, and as excerpts on many more occasions. I have grown to love the corners that terrified me at first. And I have grown to understand Weir's characters - to question them - to not always take them at face value.
It is such a pleasure to live with a piece of music - to live with a character - as I have with King Harald this last year. He has been by my side for the terrifying first performance to my new class-mates at Guildhall, for a thrilling ride at the Wigmore Hall and on the day that I completed my first year of postgraduate study. I hope that some of you will join us for the next stage of our adventure at 8pm on Saturday: https://www.sjss.org.uk/events/24-hour-music-marathon