Satyagraha

for orchestra

Naresh Sohal

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Composer Naresh Sohal
Year of Composition 1997
Duration ca.12'
work_preview

Instrumentation Orchestra
Forces 3+1.3+1.3+1.3/4431/ timp/4perc/2hp/cel/str
Categories (all composers)
Catalogue ID ce-ns1s4

Notes

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Commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra with funds provided by the Arts Council of England to mark 50 years of India’s independence. First performance 17th March 1997, London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta. Barbican Hall, London.

Though intended for a standard orchestral line-up, Naresh Sohal’s Satyagraha showed a more subtle blending of East and West. Taking its title from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘insistence on the truth’ (the motto of Gandhi’s resistance movement), the piece, commissioned by the LSO for the 50th anniversary celebrations, used Rule Britannia! and Ram Dhun, a tune for Lord Ram sung by Gandhi at his prayer meetings, as an allegory of the opposing parties in the independence struggle.

With their in-built responses, anthems are loaded material, largely linked, as in Tchaikovsky’s 1812, with conflict. But here, stressing the peaceful nature of the transition, Sohal so shocked native listeners with a strident version of Arne’s nautical ditty that thereafter they were open to the work’s many beauties, not least its magical opening for solo flute and the smooth link to the upbeat second section with its bracing trumpets and percussion.

A worthy tribute, then, to a lasting association that, as Nehru remarked, happens rarely in the history of nations. In this anniversary year, it would be a shame if this were Satyagraha’s only performance.

– Nicholas Williams, The Independent 19/03/97

British perceptions of the nature of the independence struggle have changed over recent years, as the full human cost of the ‘Partition’ of India has become more widely known. The reviewer’s view of the transfer of power as an entirely peaceful process no longer stands up to scrutiny. However, his assessment of the qualities of Sohal’s work as a cogent representation of a major political transition that involved a peace movement is still valid.