Between 1914-18 there were more than 38 million casualties during World War I.

We invite you to give voice to remember them through a unique piece of music.

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The Idea

Image: The German attack advancing from their trench. Imperial War Museum, German First World War Exchange Collection.

The Idea

Memorial Ground is a piece of choral music by Pulitzer Prize-winning and Oscar-nominated composer David Lang, composed in 2016 to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme in a very special way. More than 1.1 million people from all over the world were killed or wounded during that Battle, and no single text or piece of music can respond to such a scale of loss. Instead, David Lang wanted to offer many different people a way to voice their own response. Choirs ranging from primary schools to professionals, choirs of all sizes and abilities customised his piece to make it their own by choosing texts and shaping the performance according to their own thoughts, resources, location, circumstances and scale. Some kept it simple and short; others added instruments, video projections, staging, poetry, prayers, whispered names of the fallen – every performance was unique. Read some of the different approaches people took here.

“Memorial Ground is still very much in my head. Beautiful pieces, beautifully sung.” The Fourth Choir’s audience member


Memorial Ground was originally meant to be available to choirs for the duration of The Battle of the Somme (20 weeks), but we are delighted to announce that David Lang has agreed for the piece, and all its online resources to continue to be available on this website for free until November 1918. We invite choirs everywhere to consider creating their own Memorial Ground to remember the more than 38 million casualties of World War I and reflect on their legacy to us today. Visit the resources page for print music, audio tracks, video tutorials, ideas and suggestions.

The Piece

The title, ‘Memorial Ground’ has a double meaning. It refers to a battlefield, but also a ‘ground’ in music is a chord sequence that repeats over and over, on top of which you can add extra lines. Think of the ending of Hey Jude or Pachelbel’s Canon – they are both grounds.

David Lang took that idea and expanded it to create what he calls his ‘hymn tune.’ There are short (2 minute) and long (5 minute) versions and they should be repeated as needed, the way that hymns repeat. They serve as a ‘bed’ for ad lib solos that are sung or spoken over it. David has provided melodies without words so that each choir can use them to set words that reflect their own thoughts on the battle centenary. This could be a poem, prayer, a roll call of the fallen from the local war memorial; other texts such as letters, diaries, or personal accounts. Choirs can also chose from the solos that David has provided with words already added, or mix and match freely. Read some of the different approaches people took here.

The music has been written to be as accessible as possible to a wide ability range of singers, and performable by many different types of groups. The answer to most questions about it is ‘yes you can’; David is happy for choirs to add instruments, transpose the piece to suit different ranges – whatever it takes for you to create the performance that works best for you.

“…the new piece was so emotive, it had me in tears.” St Andrew’s Church Choir audience member

Image: Aerial photograph of Mouquet Farm AFTER heavy bombardment during the Battle of Pozieres Ridge.

Image: British troops, two corporals near Beaumont Hamel, November 1916.

What did people think?

“An outstanding performance that caught the sadness, the spirituality and courage of all those men who fell not just at the Somme, but at all the great battles.”

“Three of us, sitting sided by side, were moved to tears”

“One of the most memorable concerts I think I have ever seen.”

Audience members at the premiere of Memorial Ground, East Neuk Festival.


David Lang

David Lang is one of the most highly-esteemed and performed composers writing today. His works are heard in great concert halls and theatres around the world and also on film: notably he has worked with Peter Greenaway and Paolo Sorrentino, including the sound track to Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning La Grande Bellezza and his recent film YOUTH. Vocal music has long been key to David Lang’s work. He won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in music for The Little Match Girl Passion, based on a fable by Hans Christian Andersen. He has created works for the world’s leading ensembles including Theatre of Voices (whose recording of little match girl passion won a Grammy Award), Trio Medieval and Anonymous 4, and also numerous works for amateur performers including CROWD OUT for 1,000 people yelling.

David’s website is very useful for sampling a range of his work for choirs – if you enjoy Memorial Ground take a look to see if any of his other pieces would suit your group.

Image: David Lang by Peter Serling ©