Between the Sandhills and the Sea
For Violoncello and Piano
II. Love and War
III. Dear Roland
IV. A Plea
V. Refuse to Forget (L'Envoi)
Full Score. An essay about this piece and the life of Vera Brittain is found in the back (p. 58).
A Tribute to Vera Brittain
The war that began almost accidentally in the summer of 1914, soon exploded into a global catastrophe so huge that, a century on, we can barely imagine it. It destroyed four empires, killed 18 million people and left tens of millions of other lives irreparably broken. How do you remember such a tragedy?
Edward Brittain (Vera's brother) back left. Roland Leighton (Vera's fiancé) front left.
Vera and her brother Edward.
Between the Sandhills and the Sea is a piece for cello and piano inspired by the life and writings of British author, journalist, and lecturer Vera Brittain (1893-1970). A Voluntary Aid Detachment (V.A.D.) nurse, Brittain was arguably the only woman to chronicle the Great War in depth. In 1915 Brittain left Somerville College, Oxford, to enlist as a nurse when her fiancé, Roland Leighton, younger brother, Edward, and friend, Victor Richardson, joined Lord Kitchener’s volunteer Army. Later that year, Edward introduced Geoffrey Thurlow (a fellow infantryman) to this close-knit group of friends.
Vera Brittain is best known for her 1933 memoir Testament of Youth, which depicts the savagery of WWI and her own personal loss, precipitated by the tragic deaths of all four young men. The title of my piece is borrowed from Chapter VIII in Brittain’s autobiography. This chapter recounts her experiences as a V.A.D. near the front in Étaples, France.
"Movement V" of Between the Sandhills and the Sea includes a song titled “L’Envoi,” which was written by Vera’s brother Edward while attending the Uppingham School before the war. His composition is a setting of a poem by Roland Leighton, who was Edward’s classmate at the time.
Between the Sandhills and the Sea is structured into five movements. Each movement begins with a reading of a Brittain poem. In order, the five poems used in this piece are: "To Them," "Perhaps," "Roundel," "The Aspirant," and "The End."
Movement I was premiered at Carnegie Hall in October of 2018 approximately one month before the 100-year anniversary of the Armistice. I hope to present this piece in its entirety in 2022.
Vera Brittain as a VAD nurse.
Michelle Alvarado (piano) and Hannah Holman (cello) performing "Movement I: Time" from Between the Sandhills and the Sea at Carnegie Hall.
“Perhaps, after all, the best that we who were left could do was to refuse to forget, and to teach our successors what we remembered in the hope that they, when their own day came, would have more power to change the world than this bankrupt, shattered generation.”
Envelope of a letter sent to Edward Brittain while serving in France. He eventually died on the Asiago Plateau in Italy.
Excerpt from a poem by W. E. Henley. Roland Leighton sent this poem to Vera during the early days of the war. This final stanza is presented here in Vera's own handwriting.