This page is dedicated to the Wilfred Owen Violin and its story. If you would like to see and listen to the violin, please see the gallery and media player to the side.
In commemoration of The Great War
As a poignant commemoration of the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, Steve Burnett has crafted a violin that resonates – not just with an exceptional warmth and depth of tone but with literary and historical associations that reach back over the century.
It is called ‘The Wilfred Owen Violin’ and, like Wilfred Owen’s poem, ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, this instrument is Steve’s musical lament for all those who died in the Great War.
The BBC has been following the creation of this unique instrument from the very start and Radio Scotland’s ‘The Singing Sycamore – The Wilfred Owen Violin’, first broadcast on 4 August 2014, forms part of their official Great War centenary programme. Click here for the programme on the BBC website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04cfv19.
It is a touching story that begins in 1917 when Wilfred Owen underwent treatment for shell-shock at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh . Here he met Siegfried Sassoon, who became his literary mentor and encouraged the young poet to write (tor more information, follow this link: http://www2.napier.ac.uk/warpoets/.
A century later, Steve used the branch of a sycamore tree growing in the grounds of this former hospital to create his violin. Was the tree there when Owen was recuperating? Yes. Did he sit under this tree as part of his rehabilitation? It would be nice to think so.
Owen’s most well-known poems were written following his time at Craiglockhart, when he felt compelled to speak out about the ‘Pity of War’ and the brutality faced by his men. It was another poem, however, composed in 1910, that was Steve’s inspiration for this project.
The Edinburgh instrument-maker writes: ‘For some time I had in mind to make a violin/fiddle to honour the memory of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and their generation. Now is the most fitting time to realise this idea, with the approach of the centenary of the beginning of the Great War. Inside the violin are the words of Owen’s pre-war poem, ‘Written in a Wood, September 1910’. We have chosen a limb from a sycamore tree growing alongside a lovely copper beech tree at Craiglockhart and this will make this a poignant statement of the sacrifices of that generation.’
This branch came down at the end of January 2014 in a standard pruning operation, and six months later Steve was holding the finished violin. Part of what makes it special, therefore, is not only the fact that the host sycamore tree is still alive, but that, like ‘The Sherlock Violin’ and ‘Conan Doyle Quartet’ before it, Steve has crafted this instrument out of green, unseasoned wood. A remarkable undertaking. Only the combination of Steve’s pioneering expertise in this field, the use of Italian renaissance techniques and his considerable experience making stringed instruments made it possible for him to craft this wood while it still felt alive – a fact belied by the warmth of tone produced. On its first ever concert try-out at The Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh, Scottish international violinist, Feargus Hetherington, praised the ‘clarity of the sound and sinew of tone’.
The Wilfred Owen Violin has been created to give voice to this living wood and to commemorate the poet’s love of language for a new generation. Plans are already afoot to engage with well-known violinists to use the instrument as a voice and envoy for peace and reconciliation in the spirit of Wilfred Owen and his peers. And as it becomes more widely known and used, it will also come to stand for all those who were damaged by their involvement in the war – all wars.
Further details of concerts and the educational work of The Wilfred Owen Violin Project will be posted both here and on The Wilfred Owen Association website (http://www.wilfredowen.org.uk/home/)
If you would like to make a donation to the Wilfred Owen Violin Fund please read below:
The Wilfred Owen Violin Fund committee is seeking to raise funds for this unique and important project to run over the next four years and beyond. All contributions will be gratefully received and acknowledged.
A plaque will be placed next to the violin in the War Poets’ Collection (part of Napier University’s Craiglockhart campus) where it is planned to house the violin between concert tours in the UK and abroad and educational visits to schools.
If you would like any further information or wish to make a donation, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. A dedicated account has been set up with The Clydesdale Bank (The Wilfred Owen Violin Fund – sort code: 82-62-27; account number: 10563307).