He was one of the last officers to be evacuated from Gallipoli, and he was killed in the final days of the battle of the Somme, but amid the horror of the First World War, Frederick Septimus Kelly always found beauty and comfort in music.
A decorated soldier, Olympic gold medallist and celebrated musician and composer, Kelly wrote music in the trenches of Gallipoli and in his dugout on the Western Front, his friends often laughing at his habit of wearing gloves to protect his pianist’s hands.
His compositions though had been largely lost and forgotten until recent times, but the Australian War Memorial’s musical artist-in-residence, Chris Latham, is determined to change that. Today Kelly’s work is being recorded as part of the Flowers of War project and features in The Lost Jewels, a concert of lost musical treasures that Latham unearthed to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War.
Directed by Latham, The Lost Jewels is on at the National Gallery of Australia on 10–11 August 2018, and features music by composers who were killed during the First World War, as well as projected images of paintings by artists who also died during war.
Kelly’s work, the Somme Lament, which was written in the basement of a bombed-out house in Menil-Martinsart in France just two weeks before his death, will feature in a program called The Diggers' Requiem, which will be performed in Llewelyn Hall at the ANU School of Music in Canberra in October.
“Frederick Septimus Kelly was one of the great cultural losses of the First World War. But as an Australian who had largely studied and worked in England, he fell between two stools, claimed by neither country, his music largely unknown,” Latham said. “He was a composer of undeniable genius … and in the coming years, it will become clearer just what kind of talent we lost.”