Karl Jenkins: The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace

Karl Jenkins is a British composer whose fusion style attracted my attention while studying in England. He has his admirerers and his detractors.

Certainly, one cannot compare his music with that of John Tavener or Arvo Part, which are from a different class. Yet, his popularity is, I believe, not artificial. He surely strikes a chord with many contemporaries.

The music clip above, called Benedictus, is part of his album The Armed Man, inspired by the armed conflict in Kosova.

Warwick Thompson presents the album in the following manner on the Amazon website:

Karl Jenkins’s The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace is a departure from his Adiemus recordings into the more conventional territory of large-scale choral and orchestral writing, though his customary passion for mixing languages remains in full force with texts in English, Latin, and French. Jenkins has said that The Armed Man was inspired by the “L’Homme armé” masses that were popular in the 16th century, and he makes this debt clear with passages written in a neat pastiche of Palestrina-style renaissance polyphony. There are also echoes of earlier and later styles, including plainchant, medieval ballads, John Barry-style horn writing (think Goldfinger), and even a direct quote from Rigoletto (the choir imitates wind sounds at one point as in Act 3 of the Verdi opera). The smorgasbord manages to hold together, probably because Jenkins’s obvious sincerity shines through every note. The London Philharmonic Orchestra plays beautifully, and treble Tristan Hambleton performs his solo with ethereal clarity. The National Youth Choir sings with vigor and accuracy, even if the young sopranos sound a little thin at the top of their range. If you liked the soundtrack to The Mission, this should press all the right buttons.

Here is how the album is described (not very sympathetically) on the All music website:

Karl Jenkins, a British composer who has written award-winning music for advertising, created this choral work for the Royal Armouries, a museum of medieval military objects housed in the Tower of London. The idea, writes the museum’s director, was to use the medieval tune L’homme armé (The Armed Man) to create a modern mass, just as composers of half a millennium ago did with some frequency — and thus “to look back and reflect as we leave behind the most war-torn and destructive century in human history

Since this work has as a starting point the war in Kosova, a majority Muslim place, the album also includes the Muslim call the prayer, Al-Adhaan, which I present below.

Here is an explanation about the Muslim call to prayer, for those interested in understanding it (source, HERE):

Preferably, there should be an appointed Muadhl’n at each Mosque who will call the people to prayer when the time of a Particular prayer is due. In performing the Adhaan, the Muadhl’n would stand facing the direction of the “Qiblah” (the sacred mosque in Makkah). He would then raise both hands up to his ears and say in a loud voice the following words:

  1. ALLAHU AKBAR – Allah is the greatest (to be repeated 4 times).
  2. ASH-HADU ANLA ILAHA ILLALLAAH – I testify that there is no god but Allah. (to be repeated 2 times).
  3. ASH-HADU ANNA MUHAMMADAN RASUULULLAAH – I testify that Muhammad is Allah’s messenger. (to be repeated 2 times).
  4. HAYYAA LAS SALAAT – Come fast to prayer. (to be repeated 2 times). The Muadhl’n, when reciting this turns the face slightly to the right side.
  5. HA YYAALAL FALAAH – Come fast to success. (to be repeated 2 times). The Muadhin, when reciting this turns the face slightly to the left side.
  6. ALLAHU AKBAR -Allah is the greatest. (to be repeated 2 times).
  7. LAA ILAHA ILLALLAAH – There is no god but Allah. (to be recited once).




Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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