Britten War Requiem
7:45pm Saturday 26 July 2014
Worcester Cathedral, WR1 2LA
- Festival Chorus
- Philharmonia Orchestra
- Dr Peter Nardone conductor
- Geraint Bowen conductor
- Susan Gritton soprano
- James Oxley tenor
- David Wilson-Johnson baritone
The first of this year’s evening concerts features one of the most iconic choral works in British musical history. Combining text from the Latin Requiem Mass with vivid anti-war poetry by Wilfred Owen, this deeply affecting work serves as a compelling reminder, in this anniversary year, of the ‘pity of war’.
Kindly supported by the Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust
- Event information
Benjamin Britten War Requiem
The War Requiem was completed in 1962 to mark the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral following the almost total destruction of the original 14th century building in a WW2 bombing raid during the Battle of Britain. Its fine tower and spire were miraculously saved which inspired the decision to build a new cathedral at right angles to the old and to connect them, and for the new building’s message to be one of reconciliation. A sacred ministry for reconciliation with international outreach was put in place and still partly defines the cathedral’s mission today.
Britten used the opportunity to write a large-scale composition embodying his deeply held pacifist and humanitarian beliefs, and to demonstrate in the most powerful way possible the horror, devastation, futility and utter waste of war. He set the Latin Mass for the Dead interweaved with settings of 9 poems by WW1 poet Wilfred Owen and dedicated the work to four friends, Piers Dunkerley, Roger Burney, David Gill, and Michael Halliday. According to the Britten-Pears Foundation website, Dunkerley, “one of Britten’s closest friends, took part in the 1944 Normandy landings. Unlike the other dedicatees, he survived the war but committed suicide in June 1959, two months before his wedding.”
On the title page of the score Britten quoted Wilfred Owen: “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity… All a poet can do today is warn.”
Britten composed for huge forces requiring a very large orchestra, a smaller chamber orchestra which accompanies the soloists, a main chorus and boys’ choir necessitating two conductors. So powerful was the first performance that The Times critic, William Mann, wrote: ‘so superbly proportioned and calculated, so humiliating and disturbing in effect, in fact so tremendous, that every performance it is given ought to be a momentous occasion’.
It was a score which immediately captured the public imagination. The first recording, featuring Galina Vishnevskaya (Russian), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (German) and Peter Pears (English) with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Britten, was produced in 1963. Within five months of its release it sold 200,000 copies, an unheard-of number for a piece of contemporary classical music at that time.
Tickets for the festival will be available from Thursday the 17th of April 2014