Une voix dans le désert
”Une voix dans le désert" ("A Voice in the Desert") is a recitation, with a soprano soloist and orchestra, written by the English composer Edward Elgar in 1915 as his Op. 77. The words are by the Belgian poet Émile Cammaerts.
It was first produced, in London at the Shaftesbury Theatre, on 29 January 1916, with the recitation by the Belgian dramatic performer Carlo Liten, the soprano Olga Lynn, and an orchestra conducted by the composer.
The words were translated into English by Cammaerts' wife, Tita Brand.
The work was published as a piano reduction (the vocal parts with piano accompaniment) by Elkin & Co. in 1916.
The reality was horrific. In August 1914 Belgium had been invaded by the German army: the big cities had been destroyed, the carnage on both sides was incalculable and King Albert and his army were driven to the banks of the river Yser in West Flanders.
The Pall Mall Gazette in review of Une voix dans le désert described the scene on stage:
It is night when the curtain rises, showing the battered dwelling, standing alone in the desolate land, with the twinkling of camp fires along the Yser in the distance, and in the foreground the cloaked figure of a man, who soliloquises on the spectacle to Elgar's music. Then he ceases, and the voice of a peasant girl is heard coming from the cottage, singing a song of hope and trust in anticipation of the day the war shall be ended [ "Quand nos bourgeons se rouvriront" ("When the spring comes round again") ] ... The wayfarer stands transfixed as he listens to the girl's brave song, and then, as he comments again on her splendid courage and unconquerable soul, the curtain slowly falls.
A Voice in the Desert
Une voix dans le désert
- Rarely Heard Elgar & Forgotten War Music[dead link] Munich Symphony Orchestra with Douglas Bostock, on ClassicO label.
- Elgar: War Music Richard Pascoe (narrator), Teresa Cahill (soprano), Barry Collett (conductor), Rutland Sinfonia
- The CD with the book Oh, My Horses! Elgar and the Great War has many historical recordings including Une voix dans le désert with Quand nos bourgeons se rouvriront, a 1985 recording with Alvar Lidell (narrator), Valerie Hill (soprano) and the Kensington Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leslie Head
- Carlo Liten was born in 1879 in Antwerp, Belgium of a Belgian father and Italian mother. He was a distinguished theatre actor and reciter, at the time well-known in Europe and America. He performed in Elgar's Carillon, Le drapeau belge and Une voix dans le désert. After World War I he acted in three films "The Strongest" (1920), "L'Affaire du train" (1921) and "Les Mystères de Paris" (1922). It was said of him by John Palmer (assistant editor of the London Saturday Review) that Liten "had the most wonderful voice in the memory of any living person ... for resonance, servicableness and charm the most remarkable I have ever heard from any actor. Add to this mastery of gesture and expression dictated by a refined intelligence and we get a rare personality."
- Olga Lynn (1882–1961) was a famous singing teacher associated with Covent Garden Opera House. Her autobiography is "Oggie, The Memoirs of Olga Lynn", pub. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1955.
- The Pall Mall Gazette, 31 January 1916
- Boche: French slang meaning "rascal", an offensive term applied by French soldiers to German soldiers in World War 1.
- Foreman, Lewis (ed.),Oh, My Horses! Elgar and the Great War, Elgar Editions, Rickmansworth, 2001 ISBN 0-9537082-3-3