This month, Clef Notes is exploring the topic “Music and War.” So far, we’ve looked at several war favorites premiered by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, pieces commemorating September 11, and works written around WWI. This week, let’s wrap up by looking at a few pieces composed as a result of WWII.
The Cathedral of St. Michael in Coventry was bombed in 1940 by enemy forces. The building was a 14th-century structure and this act of evil shook the nation. Years following the war, a new cathedral was built using remains from the original. Upon its completion in 1962, a dedication event was planned including a work composed for the festivities by Benjamin Britten.
Not everyone approved of Britten as the designated composer, as he was a pacifist and even left the country just before Britain entered the war. Despite this controversial decision, Britten successfully completed a memorial for the dead of all wars throughout history: the War Requiem.
Britten’s War Requiem is an oratorio that uses the Latin Requiem Mass with an added commentary text taken from settings of poems by Wilfred Owen, a young poet who died in battle during WWI. This grand work includes an orchestra, soprano solo, and mixed chorus for the performance of the ancient Requiem Mass. Owen’s poetry shows a more personal side of war, using tenor and baritone solos representing men affected by the war, a distant boy choir, chamber ensemble, and organ.
Here you can listen to Britten’s War Requiem. Do you think he effectively creates a memorial to those whose lives were taken by war?