To what God shall we chant our songs of battle? was commissioned by James O’Donnell and Westminster Abbey for a service of solemn commemoration on 4 August 2014 marking the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.
Stark and gritty yet always rooted in tonality, Matthews’s expressive harmonies bring a potent immediacy to the bitter, disillusioned words of war poet Harold Monro and the two lyrical solos for soprano and tenor which set passages from the Book of Lamentations and St Luke’s Gospel. Beginning with a violent and impassioned energy, this anthem ultimately offers little consolation. In the words of James O’Donnell it ‘leaves you standing on the edge of an abyss’ – its impetus petering out in a series of hushed, troubled questions.