Always in search of interesting material for his vocal compositions, Christopher Bowen found that Rimbaud’s words appealed to his sense of justice and of the satirical. His music is characterised by frequent changes in tempo and syncopation while whispered injunctions give way to shouts of defiance in the choral writing.

Fifteen years ago, Christopher Bowen wrote about his then new composition, Démocratie. “It is not my intention to make a political statement with this work, as politics from my perspective have become a rather futile and impotent means by which to implement positive change for society as a whole. Democracy in its most ideal form is fast diminishing, hi-jacked by those whose only concern is to increase their own power to the exclusion of others. One can rationalise any change in many ways and justify it, but if the mechanisms of change demeans humanity and its most basic and fundamental qualities, then I would question its motives.”

Now, on this second performance of his work, he says that ‘democracies throughout the world are now more fragile than ever’. He says that it is a time when facts are described as ‘alternative’ and when people cry ‘fake news’ when what they are hearing or reading is really objective journalism. Amongst a certain part of the population, there is an acceptance of the most outrageous prejudice and bigotry.

He also wonders now how we should view all of those who have fought inequality, discrimination and injustice, including those now-revered protestors Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela when, in our own country, some denounce the right to protest against injustice.

While he says that Démocratie is not political, Christopher Bowen’s wish is that his composition proves to be provocative and challenging for the listeners, causing them to reflect on the state of democracy today. Although Arthur Rimbaud wrote in a satirical vein, he was not trying to make fun of the democratic system. His message was that democracy was failing to protect the vulnerable at the expense of the powerful. The message of Les Illuminations lives on!

Démocratie will be heard in Showcasing Australian Artists on Thursday 22 February at 8pm.