Britten’s War Requiem

Thanks to the kindness of friends, Kirsten and I heard Britten’s War Requiem at Symphony Hall last night.  It’s the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth.  I have been reading the new biography of Britten by Neil Powell.

Benjamin Britten: A Life for Music Cover

I wish that everyone in the world might hear, inwardly digest, and outwardly acknowledge the great and cogent call to a sane Christian life proclaimed in this Requiem which was 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.
William Mann, writing in the The Times, 1962.  p. 368

In Britten’s composition, the Latin Requiem Mass is broken up with Wilfred Owen’s World War I poems.

 Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, —
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

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