Program notes

August Offensive for orchestra, opus 92 (2012)

Composer’s note

August Offensive had its premiere at the ANZAC Day dawn service at Gallipoli, Turkey on 25 April, 2013. The work is a seven-minute piece commissioned by the Australian government’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs as a part of the Centenary of Gallipoli Symphony project. The project, directed by Christopher Latham, involved the commissioning of new works by Australian, New Zealand and Turkish composers to eventually form a full-length work for performance in 2015 – the centenary of the ANZAC landing. The brief was to write a work which could serve as a climactic point for the larger project and which encapsulated the speed and violence of the events in August 1915. August Offensive takes its name from the pitched battles of August 1915 when the British and ANZAC troops mounted a short-lived and exceptionally desperate campaign along the steep and barren gorges of the coastal terrain. I was impressed, when reading the official war history, to learn of the constant cycle of digging and firing, the horrors of hand-to-hand combat, the sheer scale of the Turkish response and the utter futility of the campaign. The dry crisp cymbal sounds and the violent tutti polyrhythms of the outer sections contrast with a more heroic and elegiac extended passage in the centre of the work.

Andrew Schultz, 2013

Gordon Kalton Williams’ program note for the work as performed by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra in 2015.

Andrew Schultz (born 1960)

August Offensive, Op.92

In terms of Australia’s First World War observances the date that stands out is April 25th, the date on which Australian and New Zealand troops first landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey in 1915. But Andrew Schultz’s August Offensive takes its subject matter from events later that year.

By August, Anzacs and other British imperial troops still clung to the cliffsides at Gallipoli, British and French troops had a toe-hold on Helles Point on the southern tip of the peninsula. But the Turkish Offensive of 19 May had failed to push the Anzacs ‘back into the sea’, and British High Command decided that the Allies should hazard another attempt to push inland. The plan included diversions at Lone Pine (by the Australians) and Helles Point (mostly by the British 29th Division and French allies) and an attack at the Nek (the climax of Peter Weir’s film, Gallipoli). The main force was to take Chunuk Bair (Çonk Bayırı) and Hill 971 and secure the Turkish heights while the British landed reinforcements and began climbing up from Suvla Bay. The plan failed dismally. The attacks became unco-ordinated; some troops even got lost in the maze of ravines leading up to the heights. At the Nek within half an hour on 7 August, 234 men lay dead and 138 wounded in ‘an area no longer than a tennis court’. While the New Zealanders, with some British units, captured Chunuk Bair, the Turks forced the Allies off. First Lord of the Admiralty Churchill had predicted ‘a military episode not inferior in glory to any that the history of war records…’ By 17 August, General Ian Hamilton had to admit that this Offensive had failed. Later in the month there were several costly and ultimately fruitless attempts to break out of Suvla, but these were the last major battles of the Gallipoli campaign

Adelaide-born composer Andrew Schultz has written a number of works expressing his horror at war and violence. His 2001 opera, Going into Shadows deals with terrorism. Beach Burial is a choral setting of Kenneth Slessor’s great World War II poem about the makeshift burial of bodies washed ashore after a great sea battle. With a number of large-scale pieces under his belt, Schultz is also able to compress intense emotion into telling moments. While August Offensive is brief, a lot is wound into its unremitting seven minutes. The technical-minded may hear polymetres, but there is violence as well as lament for those events in August 1915 that cost the lives of ‘the flower of the youth’ (in C.E.W. Bean’s phrase) of many lands.

© Gordon Kalton Williams, 2015