Sunday, November 09, 2008

Benjamin Britten: War Requiem

For Remembrance Sunday. Mstislav Rostropovich conducts the "Requiem aeternam" from Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, in a performance recorded at the Royal Albert Hall in 1993.

The Britten-Pears Foundation website describes the genesis of the work:

On the night of 14 November 1940 the burnt offering was Coventry Cathedral, victim of the Luftwaffe bombs.

The circumstances of its destruction dictated that the festival in 1962 to mark the consecration of its successor would always have a distinct soberness in comparison to the celebratory atmosphere surrounding the completion of the new cathedral at Guildford the previous year.

When Britten was asked to write a work for Coventry’s new cathedral, he took the opportunity to make his most profound statement on the nature of war and it was surely inevitable that as a committed pacifist from an early age, he would seek to emphasize the building’s turbulent history ...

Dedicated to the memory of four friends, War Requiem is a profound and deeply disturbing creed, particularly notable for its juxtaposition of war poems by Wilfred Owen alongside the Catholic Mass for the Dead.

You can read more about Coventry Catherdral elsewhere on this blog. And, as I recorded when discussing Dudley Moore's affectionate parody of Britten and Pears, the first recording of the War Requiem sold 200,000 copies within five months of its release in 1963.

The Britten-Pears Foundation site also celebrates the composer's friendship with Rostropovich.


Frank Little said...

As I read your posting, I was listening to that recording, being broadcast in "The Choir" slot on Radio 3. At the same time, S4C is showing a subtitled version of "Yr Afon", its programme on the Rhine, in which the world wars feature.

Philip Wilkinson said...

A truly great work, worthy of its subject (and indeed of Owen's stellar poetry). It is stunning to listen to live and comes over well in recordings too – I've been impressed by the one conducted by Richard Hickox as well as by Britten's own.