Commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and first performed by Marcus Farnsworth and the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Martyn Brabbins on 30th November 2018 at the Barbican.

  • 2(pic)+pic.2+ca.2+bcl.2+cbn/4.3.2+btbn.1/timp.4perc/2hp.cel/str
  • Baritone
  • 28 min

Programme Note

A short opera about internet dating seems an unlikely place to start, but it was as a result of the Tête à Tête Opera Festival teaming up Tamsin and me to write Love Bytes in 2012 that Last Man Standing came into existence. We so enjoyed working together that we resolved to collaborate on a large-scale work one day, and the perfect opportunity presented itself when I was commissioned by the BBC Symphony Orchestra to write a monodrama for baritone and orchestra.

We originally intended to draw on the WW1 memoirs of Siegfried Sassoon, but then decided to use our piece to explore the experiences and emotions of an anonymous British soldier – an Everytommy, who could represent men of every rank and class. Over the course of three years,we immersed ourselves in novels, poetry, letters, eyewitness accounts and documentaries. The BBC's seminal 1964 26-part series The Great War was a particularly important source for us, as was Joan Littlewood’s Oh! What a Lovely War. I poured over military pamphlets detailing everything from bugle calls to the maintenance of heavy artillery. Nicholas Saunders’s book The Poppy, tracing the flower’s cultural and socialhistory, provided Tamsin with a framework for the narrative. And we spent many hours together in the Imperial War Museum, attempting to comprehend the incomprehensible.

Much of this research has found its way into the musical language of Last Man Standing: the Music Hall ditties that bribed and shamed boys into enlisting, the bugle calls that sounded the alarm and ordered soldiers to commence firing, the artillery and trench whistles that sent men to their deaths (the percussion section includes replica whistles, made with the same materials, from the original J. Hudson & co. factories). Soldiers' songs (When this lousy war is over (to the tune of What a friend we have in Jesus) and The bells of hell go ting-a-ling, for you but not for me) feature, as well as the most famous of all, We're here because we're here. For me, Tamsin's text says all that needs to be said about our new work, and in my setting I have attempted to express something of the emotional gamut our 'ordinary ' Tommy must have experienced: from excitement, optimism and pride, through boredom, terror and despair, to resignation and some form of acceptance.