World War I

In the project Tenso 14-18 : from poetry to music, we want to bring to life the poems and texts that were written during the Great War and immediately after, and use these as the basis for new choral repertoire. World War I brought “the end of civilization” – after this catastrophe, it was no longer possible to blindly trust ideals such as “Europe” – but it also brought about the first pan-European peace and it led to the independence of many European nations. One of the effects of the Great War was the urge to create European organizations that were the forerunners of the EU. The catastrophe also brought about a significant change in the arts that would make its mark on music in the years after the war, resulting in the re-appreciation of ensemble and chamber choir music – music in which the collaboration of individuals is at the core. In this project we want to honour the thoughts and ideas of that very special period, 100 years ago, and give them expression in music.


Many soldiers and civilians who lived during and after World War I have expressed their feelings in poetry – both the despair of war and the joy of the ensuing peace. Via international poetry festivals, we will make an appeal to the European public to share their knowledge of these poems with us.

We want to pay special attention to texts originating from the Balkan and Eastern Europe – the English poems are well enough known – and the fact that most of the fighting did not take place in Western Europe, but in other areas from the Baltic to the Near East, and from the Balkan to the Caucasus, deserves extra attention. We will also not limit ourselves to war poems; during and after World War I amazing cultural movements such as Dada and futurism led to great literature that also sheds a light on those turbulent years.

We will reach across Europe and stimulate people to contribute to our project. In a wiki-environment on the internet, people can post poems and translations, and follow the composers as they select the lyrics and start to compose music. At the end of the project, the poetry and the music based on it will be collected, translated, recorded and published in print and via internet.


Tenso choirs will jointly commission young and established composers to write new music on the basis of the WWI poetry, ensuring performances of the new repertoire all over Europe. We will give several commissions to composers who live and work in current zones of conflict such as the Caucasus and the Near East – where the Great War also left its traces – to translate their experience of fighting and civil unrest into music.

The use of lyrics is the principal difference between choral music and instrumental music. As one of our principal goals, we seek to recreate the link between text and music, reinforcing the appeal of the texts for audiences by looking closely at narrative, meaning, and role (as in rituals). For this, we will develop new ways to present the lyrics to audiences as a fundamental element of a concert experience.

Stimulating composers to write more and better music for chamber choir is an ongoing goal for Tenso. In seminars, workshops and individual coaching, we work with composers and offer them choirs as ‘laboratories’. International collaboration between choirs makes this practically and financially possible.

In a series of seminars, we will encourage dialogue about different aesthetics in choral music, along parameters such as North/ South, East/ West, individuality/ homogenity, narrative music/ soundscapes, improvisation/ notation etc. Renowned composers will take part in these seminars and exchange their ideas and approaches with a new generation. We will pay special attention to different vocal traditions in European (folk) music, and to the use of live electronics and multimedia.

The Tenso wiki for repertoire plays a key role in the dissemination of the new music as widely as possible. The Tenso choirs are ambassadors for the new repertoire, performing it at the very highest level on prestigious stages all over Europe.