Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Performance of the work of poet Rupert Brooke mixes verse and music

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

How does a World War I poet fit into a musical docudrama?

Students found the answer to that question April 11 at the event at the Shuck Recital Hall when the life of Rupert Brooke was remembered through an overlap of music and poetic verse.

Brooke was an English poet who wrote and served as a soldier in the First World War, later dying during the conflict at the age of 27.

Flute instructor Paul Thompson and composition instructor Robert Fruehwald worked together on the project.

Fruehwald wrote the music performed by a group of students and a faculty member, Thompson said, and the two of them had been talking about trying to organize a performance like that for the past 30 years.

Thompson read the poetry and played piano for some of the pieces.

Meanwhile, as the audience took in the words of Brooke, they were also shown images set to match the tone, whether it be countryside or church buildings, for an effect Thompson said was “kaleidoscopic.”

Thompson said Brooke had a meaningful impact on British society.

“There’s a sort of tragic grandeur about him as well as his poetry,” Paul Thompson said. “In the British mind, he kind of exists on those levels.”

The poetry they performed by Brooke was “all over the map” with some being humorous and some being sad, Thompson said.

What inspired him to team up with Fruehwald was a shared appreciation of Brooke’s poetry.

Thompson said they were able to add music thanks to the degree of structure in the poems concerning the length, words, syllables and subject.

“Many, many composers throughout history have loved to set poetry [to music],” Thompson said. “And certain great composers loved doing that more than anything else.”

He said in addition to Brooke’s career as a poet, he was a playwright and journalist with an interest in politics.

“Had he lived, he might have ended up being a very popular politician,” Thompson said, adding that Brooke reminded him of Robert Kennedy. “He seemed to excite admiration and very little envy.”

In addition to being a “culture hero” to England, Brooke would become a symbol, Thompson said, for the men who died in the World War I generation.

He died young, contracting a blood disease from an insect after being bitten while on a troop ship traveling to Gallipoli, Thompson said.

He said the classification of “Georgian” that described Brooke’s era of poetry did not mean much of anything about its contents, but rather he could be called a century-late Romantic.

The collaborators have talked about recording a performance of the docudrama in the summer, he said, which they may upload for viewing over the internet.

The poem for which Brooke is most famous is the one Thompson said may have been a premonition of his early death.

“The Soldier” closed out the evening: “If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field, That is forever England.”

“If you tap the average Brit on the soldier and say, ‘Quote a line from Brooke,’ that would be it,” Thompson said of the poem.