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War Requiem

War Requiem

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The War Requiem, Op.
Opus number
An Opus number , pl. opera and opuses, abbreviated, sing. Op. and pl. Opp. refers to a number generally assigned by composers to an individual composition or set of compositions on publication, to help identify their works...

 66
is a large-scale, non-liturgical
Liturgy
Liturgy is either the customary public worship done by a specific religious group, according to its particular traditions or a more precise term that distinguishes between those religious groups who believe their ritual requires the "people" to do the "work" of responding to the priest, and those...

 setting of the Requiem Mass composed by Benjamin Britten
Benjamin Britten
Edward Benjamin Britten, Baron Britten, OM CH was an English composer, conductor, and pianist. He showed talent from an early age, and first came to public attention with the a cappella choral work A Boy Was Born in 1934. With the premiere of his opera Peter Grimes in 1945, he leapt to...

 mostly in 1961 and completed January 1962. Interspersed with the traditional Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 texts, in telling juxtaposition, are settings of Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Edward Salter Owen MC was an English poet and soldier, one of the leading poets of the First World War...

 poems. The work is scored for soprano
Soprano
A soprano is a voice type with a vocal range from approximately middle C to "high A" in choral music, or to "soprano C" or higher in operatic music. In four-part chorale style harmony, the soprano takes the highest part, which usually encompasses the melody...

, tenor
Tenor
The tenor is a type of male singing voice and is the highest male voice within the modal register. The typical tenor voice lies between C3, the C one octave below middle C, to the A above middle C in choral music, and up to high C in solo work. The low extreme for tenors is roughly B2...

 and baritone
Baritone
Baritone is a type of male singing voice that lies between the bass and tenor voices. It is the most common male voice. Originally from the Greek , meaning deep sounding, music for this voice is typically written in the range from the second F below middle C to the F above middle C Baritone (or...

 soloists, chorus
Choir
A choir, chorale or chorus is a musical ensemble of singers. Choral music, in turn, is the music written specifically for such an ensemble to perform.A body of singers who perform together as a group is called a choir or chorus...

, boys' choir, organ
Organ (music)
The organ , is a keyboard instrument of one or more divisions, each played with its own keyboard operated either with the hands or with the feet. The organ is a relatively old musical instrument in the Western musical tradition, dating from the time of Ctesibius of Alexandria who is credited with...

, and two orchestra
Orchestra
An orchestra is a sizable instrumental ensemble that contains sections of string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. The term orchestra derives from the Greek ορχήστρα, the name for the area in front of an ancient Greek stage reserved for the Greek chorus...

s (a full orchestra and a chamber orchestra). It has a duration of approximately 85 minutes.

Composition


The War Requiem was commissioned for the reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral
Coventry Cathedral
Coventry Cathedral, also known as St Michael's Cathedral, is the seat of the Bishop of Coventry and the Diocese of Coventry, in Coventry, West Midlands, England. The current bishop is the Right Revd Christopher Cocksworth....

 on 30 May 1962 after the original fourteenth century structure was destroyed in a World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 bombing raid on the night of 14 November 1940. The reconsecration was an occasion for an arts festival, for which Michael Tippett
Michael Tippett
Sir Michael Kemp Tippett OM CH CBE was an English composer.In his long career he produced a large body of work, including five operas, three large-scale choral works, four symphonies, five string quartets, four piano sonatas, concertos and concertante works, song cycles and incidental music...

 also wrote his opera King Priam
King Priam
King Priam is an opera by Michael Tippett, to his own libretto. The story is based on Homer's Iliad, except the birth and childhood of Paris, which are taken from the Fabulae of Hyginus.The premiere was on 29 May 1962, at Coventry...

, which premiered in Coventry the night before the War Requiem.

As a pacifist
Pacifism
Pacifism is the opposition to war and violence. The term "pacifism" was coined by the French peace campaignerÉmile Arnaud and adopted by other peace activists at the tenth Universal Peace Congress inGlasgow in 1901.- Definition :...

, Britten was inspired by the commission, which gave him complete freedom to choose the type of music to compose. He conceived of setting the traditional Latin Mass for the Dead
Requiem
A Requiem or Requiem Mass, also known as Mass for the dead or Mass of the dead , is a Mass celebrated for the repose of the soul or souls of one or more deceased persons, using a particular form of the Roman Missal...

 interwoven with nine poems about war by the English poet Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Edward Salter Owen MC was an English poet and soldier, one of the leading poets of the First World War...

. Owen, who was born in 1893, was serving as the commander of a rifle company when he was killed in action on 4 November 1918 during the crossing of the Sambre-Oise Canal
Sambre-Oise Canal
The Sambre-Oise Canal is located in northern France. It forms a connection between the river Sambre at Landrecies and the Oise at Tergnier. The canal is 71 km long, and has 38 locks...

 in France, just one week before the Armistice
Armistice with Germany (Compiègne)
The armistice between the Allies and Germany was an agreement that ended the fighting in the First World War. It was signed in a railway carriage in Compiègne Forest on 11 November 1918 and marked a victory for the Allies and a complete defeat for Germany, although not technically a surrender...

. Although he was virtually unknown at the time of his death, he has subsequently come to be revered as one of the great war poet
War poet
A War poet is a poet writing in time of and on the subject of war. The term, which is applied especially to those in military service during World War I, was documented as early as 1848 in reference to German revolutionary poet, Georg Herwegh.-Crimean War:...

s.

Philip Reed has discussed the progression of Britten's composition of the War Requiem in the Cambridge Music Handbook publication on the work. Britten himself acknowledged the stylistic influence of the Requiems of other composers such as Giuseppe Verdi
Giuseppe Verdi
Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was an Italian Romantic composer, mainly of opera. He was one of the most influential composers of the 19th century...

's Requiem
Requiem (Verdi)
The Messa da Requiem by Giuseppe Verdi is a musical setting of the Roman Catholic funeral mass for four soloists, double choir and orchestra. It was composed in memory of Alessandro Manzoni, an Italian poet and novelist much admired by Verdi. The first performance in San Marco in Milan on 22 May...

 on his own composition.

The work was dedicated to four individuals, Roger Burney, Piers Dunkerley, David Gill, and Michael Halliday. Burney and Halliday, who died in the war, were friends of Peter Pears
Peter Pears
Sir Peter Neville Luard Pears CBE was an English tenor who was knighted in 1978. His career was closely associated with the composer Edward Benjamin Britten....

 and Britten, respectively. 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." None of the other dedicatees have known graves, but are commemorated on memorials to the missing.

Orchestration


The musical forces are divided into three groups that alternate and interact with each other throughout the piece, finally fully combining at the end of the last movement. The soprano soloist and choir are accompanied by the full orchestra, the baritone and tenor soloists are accompanied by the chamber orchestra, and the boys' choir is accompanied by a small positive organ (this last group ideally being situated at some distance from the full orchestra). This group produces a very strange, distant sound. The soprano and choir and the boys' choir sing the traditional Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 Requiem text, while the tenor and baritone sing poems
Poetry
Poetry is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning...

 by Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Edward Salter Owen MC was an English poet and soldier, one of the leading poets of the First World War...

, interspersed throughout.

The full orchestra consists of three flute
Flute
The flute is a musical instrument of the woodwind family. Unlike woodwind instruments with reeds, a flute is an aerophone or reedless wind instrument that produces its sound from the flow of air across an opening...

s (third doubling piccolo
Piccolo
The piccolo is a half-size flute, and a member of the woodwind family of musical instruments. The piccolo has the same fingerings as its larger sibling, the standard transverse flute, but the sound it produces is an octave higher than written...

), three oboe
Oboe
The oboe is a double reed musical instrument of the woodwind family. In English, prior to 1770, the instrument was called "hautbois" , "hoboy", or "French hoboy". The spelling "oboe" was adopted into English ca...

s, english horn
Cor anglais
The cor anglais , or English horn , is a double-reed woodwind instrument in the oboe family....

, three clarinet
Clarinet
The clarinet is a musical instrument of woodwind type. The name derives from adding the suffix -et to the Italian word clarino , as the first clarinets had a strident tone similar to that of a trumpet. The instrument has an approximately cylindrical bore, and uses a single reed...

s (third doubling E-flat clarinet and bass clarinet
Bass clarinet
The bass clarinet is a musical instrument of the clarinet family. Like the more common soprano B clarinet, it is usually pitched in B , but it plays notes an octave below the soprano B clarinet...

), two bassoon
Bassoon
The bassoon is a woodwind instrument in the double reed family that typically plays music written in the bass and tenor registers, and occasionally higher. Appearing in its modern form in the 19th century, the bassoon figures prominently in orchestral, concert band and chamber music literature...

s and contrabassoon
Contrabassoon
The contrabassoon, also known as the double bassoon or double-bassoon, is a larger version of the bassoon, sounding an octave lower...

, six horns, four trumpet
Trumpet
The trumpet is the musical instrument with the highest register in the brass family. Trumpets are among the oldest musical instruments, dating back to at least 1500 BCE. They are played by blowing air through closed lips, producing a "buzzing" sound which starts a standing wave vibration in the air...

s in C, three trombone
Trombone
The trombone is a musical instrument in the brass family. Like all brass instruments, sound is produced when the player’s vibrating lips cause the air column inside the instrument to vibrate...

s, tuba
Tuba
The tuba is the largest and lowest-pitched brass instrument. Sound is produced by vibrating or "buzzing" the lips into a large cupped mouthpiece. It is one of the most recent additions to the modern symphony orchestra, first appearing in the mid-19th century, when it largely replaced the...

, timpani
Timpani
Timpani, or kettledrums, are musical instruments in the percussion family. A type of drum, they consist of a skin called a head stretched over a large bowl traditionally made of copper. They are played by striking the head with a specialized drum stick called a timpani stick or timpani mallet...

, percussion
Percussion instrument
A percussion instrument is any object which produces a sound when hit with an implement or when it is shaken, rubbed, scraped, or otherwise acted upon in a way that sets the object into vibration...

 (four players: two antique cymbals (C & F#)
Crotales
thumb|right|Crotales are often used with other mallet percussionCrotales , sometimes called antique cymbals, are percussion instruments consisting of small, tuned bronze or brass disks. Each is about 4 inches in diameter with a flat top surface and a nipple on the base. They are commonly...

, glockenspiel
Glockenspiel
A glockenspiel is a percussion instrument composed of a set of tuned keys arranged in the fashion of the keyboard of a piano. In this way, it is similar to the xylophone; however, the xylophone's bars are made of wood, while the glockenspiel's are metal plates or tubes, and making it a metallophone...

, gong
Gong
A gong is an East and South East Asian musical percussion instrument that takes the form of a flat metal disc which is hit with a mallet....

, bells
Tubular bell
Tubular bells are musical instruments in the percussion family. Each bell is a metal tube, 30–38 mm in diameter, tuned by altering its length. Its standard range is from C4-F5, though many professional instruments reach G5 . Tubular bells are often replaced by studio chimes, which are a smaller...

 (C & F#), vibraphone
Vibraphone
The vibraphone, sometimes called the vibraharp or simply the vibes, is a musical instrument in the struck idiophone subfamily of the percussion family....

, cymbal
Cymbal
Cymbals are a common percussion instrument. Cymbals consist of thin, normally round plates of various alloys; see cymbal making for a discussion of their manufacture. The greater majority of cymbals are of indefinite pitch, although small disc-shaped cymbals based on ancient designs sound a...

s, triangle
Triangle (instrument)
The triangle is an idiophone type of musical instrument in the percussion family. It is a bar of metal, usually steel but sometimes other metals like beryllium copper, bent into a triangle shape. The instrument is usually held by a loop of some form of thread or wire at the top curve...

, castanet
Castanet
Castanets are a percussion instrument , used in Moorish, Ottoman, ancient Roman, Italian, Spanish, Sephardic Music, and Portuguese music. The instrument consists of a pair of concave shells joined on one edge by a string. They are held in the hand and used to produce clicks for rhythmic accents or...

s, chinese blocks
Temple block
The temple block is a percussion instrument originating in China, Japan and Korea where it is used in religious ceremonies.It is a carved hollow wooden instrument with a large slit. In its traditional form, the wooden fish, the shape is somewhat bulbous; modern instruments are also used which are...

, whip
Whip (instrument)
In music, a whip or slapstick is a percussion instrument consisting of two wooden boards joined by a hinge at one end. When the boards are brought together rapidly, the sound is reminiscent of the crack of a whip. It is often used in modern orchestras, bands, and percussion ensembles.There are...

, bass drum
Bass drum
Bass drums are percussion instruments that can vary in size and are used in several musical genres. Three major types of bass drums can be distinguished. The type usually seen or heard in orchestral, ensemble or concert band music is the orchestral, or concert bass drum . It is the largest drum of...

, two side drums
Snare drum
The snare drum or side drum is a melodic percussion instrument with strands of snares made of curled metal wire, metal cable, plastic cable, or gut cords stretched across the drumhead, typically the bottom. Pipe and tabor and some military snare drums often have a second set of snares on the bottom...

, tambourine
Tambourine
The tambourine or marine is a musical instrument of the percussion family consisting of a frame, often of wood or plastic, with pairs of small metal jingles, called "zils". Classically the term tambourine denotes an instrument with a drumhead, though some variants may not have a head at all....

, and tenor drum
Tenor drum
A tenor drum is a cylindrical drum that is higher pitched than a bass drum.In a symphony orchestra's percussion section, a tenor drum is a low-pitched drum, similar in size to a field snare, but without snares and played with soft mallets or hard sticks. Under various names, the drum has been used...

), piano
Piano
The piano is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It is one of the most popular instruments in the world. Widely used in classical and jazz music for solo performances, ensemble use, chamber music and accompaniment, the piano is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal...

, portable organ
Organ (music)
The organ , is a keyboard instrument of one or more divisions, each played with its own keyboard operated either with the hands or with the feet. The organ is a relatively old musical instrument in the Western musical tradition, dating from the time of Ctesibius of Alexandria who is credited with...

 or harmonium
Harmonium
A harmonium is a free-standing keyboard instrument similar to a reed organ. Sound is produced by air being blown through sets of free reeds, resulting in a sound similar to that of an accordion...

 (a grand organ is called for only in the Libera Me, the last movement), and strings.

The chamber orchestra consists of flute
Flute
The flute is a musical instrument of the woodwind family. Unlike woodwind instruments with reeds, a flute is an aerophone or reedless wind instrument that produces its sound from the flow of air across an opening...

 (doubling piccolo
Piccolo
The piccolo is a half-size flute, and a member of the woodwind family of musical instruments. The piccolo has the same fingerings as its larger sibling, the standard transverse flute, but the sound it produces is an octave higher than written...

), oboe
Oboe
The oboe is a double reed musical instrument of the woodwind family. In English, prior to 1770, the instrument was called "hautbois" , "hoboy", or "French hoboy". The spelling "oboe" was adopted into English ca...

 (doubling english horn
Cor anglais
The cor anglais , or English horn , is a double-reed woodwind instrument in the oboe family....

), clarinet
Clarinet
The clarinet is a musical instrument of woodwind type. The name derives from adding the suffix -et to the Italian word clarino , as the first clarinets had a strident tone similar to that of a trumpet. The instrument has an approximately cylindrical bore, and uses a single reed...

 (in B flat and A), bassoon
Bassoon
The bassoon is a woodwind instrument in the double reed family that typically plays music written in the bass and tenor registers, and occasionally higher. Appearing in its modern form in the 19th century, the bassoon figures prominently in orchestral, concert band and chamber music literature...

, horn, percussion
Percussion instrument
A percussion instrument is any object which produces a sound when hit with an implement or when it is shaken, rubbed, scraped, or otherwise acted upon in a way that sets the object into vibration...

 (timpani
Timpani
Timpani, or kettledrums, are musical instruments in the percussion family. A type of drum, they consist of a skin called a head stretched over a large bowl traditionally made of copper. They are played by striking the head with a specialized drum stick called a timpani stick or timpani mallet...

, gong
Gong
A gong is an East and South East Asian musical percussion instrument that takes the form of a flat metal disc which is hit with a mallet....

, cymbals, bass drum
Bass drum
Bass drums are percussion instruments that can vary in size and are used in several musical genres. Three major types of bass drums can be distinguished. The type usually seen or heard in orchestral, ensemble or concert band music is the orchestral, or concert bass drum . It is the largest drum of...

, and side drum), harp
Harp
The harp is a multi-stringed instrument which has the plane of its strings positioned perpendicularly to the soundboard. Organologically, it is in the general category of chordophones and has its own sub category . All harps have a neck, resonator and strings...

, two violin
Violin
The violin is a string instrument, usually with four strings tuned in perfect fifths. It is the smallest, highest-pitched member of the violin family of string instruments, which includes the viola and cello....

s, viola
Viola
The viola is a bowed string instrument. It is the middle voice of the violin family, between the violin and the cello.- Form :The viola is similar in material and construction to the violin. A full-size viola's body is between and longer than the body of a full-size violin , with an average...

, violoncello
Cello
The cello is a bowed string instrument with four strings tuned in perfect fifths. It is a member of the violin family of musical instruments, which also includes the violin, viola, and double bass. Old forms of the instrument in the Baroque era are baryton and viol .A person who plays a cello is...

, double bass
Double bass
The double bass, also called the string bass, upright bass, standup bass or contrabass, is the largest and lowest-pitched bowed string instrument in the modern symphony orchestra, with strings usually tuned to E1, A1, D2 and G2...

.

Movements and structure


The work consists of six movements:
  • Requiem aeternam (10 minutes)
    • Requiem aeternam (chorus and boys' choir)
    • "What passing bells" (tenor solo) - Owen's "Anthem for Doomed Youth
      Anthem for Doomed Youth
      "Anthem for Doomed Youth" is a well-known poem written by Wilfred Owen which incorporates the themes of the horror of war.It employs the traditional form of a petrarchan sonnet, but it uses the rhyme scheme of an English sonnet. Much of the second half of the poem is dedicated to funeral rituals...

      "
  • Dies irae (27 minutes)
    • Dies irae (chorus)
    • "Bugles sang" (baritone solo) - Owen's "Voices"
    • Liber scriptus (soprano solo and semi-chorus)
    • "Out there, we walked quite friendly up to death" (tenor and baritone soli)- Owen's "The Next War
      The Next War (poem)
      The Next War is a poem by Wilfred Owen. It was written in late September 1917, and revised in July 1918. It is no. 160 in edition 'The Complete Poems and Fragments'...

      "
    • Recordare (women's chorus)
    • Confutatis (men's chorus)
    • "Be slowly lifted up" (baritone solo) - Owen's "Sonnet On Seeing a Piece of our Heavy Artillery Brought into Action
      Sonnet On Seeing a Piece of our Heavy Artillery Brought into Action
      Sonnet On Seeing a Piece of our Heavy Artillery Brought into Action is a poem by Wilfred Owen. It deals with the atrocities of World War I.-Sonnet On Seeing a Piece of our Heavy Artillery Brought into Action:...

      "
    • Reprise of Dies irae (chorus)
    • Lacrimosa (soprano and chorus) interspersed with "Move him, move him" (tenor solo) Owen's "Futility
      Futility (poem)
      Futility is a poem by Wilfred Owen, possibly the most renowned poet of the First World War, written in May of 1918 and published as no. 153 in 'The Complete Poems and Fragments'. The poem is well-known for its departure from Owen's famous style of including disturbing and graphic images in his...

      "
  • Offertorium (10 minutes)
    • Domine Jesu Christe (boys' choir)
    • Quam olim Abrahae' (chorus)
    • Isaac and Abram (tenor and baritone soli)- Owen's "The Parable of the Old Man and the Young
      The Parable of the Old Man and the Young
      The Parable of the Old Men and the Young is a poem by Wilfred Owen which compares the ascent of Abraham to Mount Moriah and his near-sacrifice of Isaac there with the start of World War I...

      "
    • Hostias et preces tibi (boys' choir)
    • Reprise of Quam olim Abrahae (chorus)
  • Sanctus (10 minutes)
    • Sanctus and Benedictus (soprano solo and chorus)
    • "After the blast of lightning" (baritone solo) - Owen's " The End
      The End (poem)
      The End is a poem by Wilfred Owen. It deals with the atrocities of World War I....

      "
  • Agnus Dei (4 minutes)
    • Agnus Dei (chorus) interspersed with "One ever hangs" (chorus; tenor solo) - Owen's "At a Calvary near the Ancre
      At a Calvary near the Ancre
      At a Calvary near the Ancre is a poem by Wilfred Owen. It deals with the atrocities of World War I....

      "
  • Libera me (23 minutes)
    • Libera me (soprano solo and chorus)
    • Strange Meeting ("It seemed that out of battle I escaped") (tenor and baritone soli) - Owen's "Strange Meeting
      Strange Meeting (poem)
      Strange Meeting is a poem by Wilfred Owen. It deals with the atrocities of World War I. The poem was written sometime in 1918 and it was published in 1919 after Owen's death...

      "
    • In paradisum (All)
    • Conclusion -Requiem Aeternam and Requiescant in Pace (Organ, Boys` choir and Mixed Chorus)

Musical Analysis


The interval
Interval (music)
In music theory, an interval is a combination of two notes, or the ratio between their frequencies. Two-note combinations are also called dyads...

 of a tritone
Tritone
In classical music from Western culture, the tritone |tone]]) is traditionally defined as a musical interval composed of three whole tones. In a chromatic scale, each whole tone can be further divided into two semitones...

 between C and F♯ is a recurring motif
Motif (music)
In music, a motif or motive is a short musical idea, a salient recurring figure, musical fragment or succession of notes that has some special importance in or is characteristic of a composition....

, the occurrence of which unifies the entire work. The interval is used both in contexts that emphasise the harmonic distance between C and F♯ and those that resolve them harmonically, mirroring the theme of conflict and reconciliation present throughout the work. The Requiem aeternam, Dies irae, and Libera me movements end in a brief choral phrase, consisting mainly of slow half notes, that resolves the tritone's discord
Consonance and dissonance
In music, a consonance is a harmony, chord, or interval considered stable, as opposed to a dissonance , which is considered to be unstable...

 to an F major chord, while at the end of the Agnus Dei the tenor (in his only transition from the Owen poems to the Requiem liturgy, on the key words, Dona nobis pacem - Give us peace) outlines a perfect fifth from C to G before moving down to F♯ to resolve the chorus's final chord. At the end of the Dies irae, the tenor sings (from Owen's "Futility") "O what, what made fatuous sunbeams toil, to break earth's sleep at all?" The notes of "at all" form the tritone and lead into the choir's formal resolution. In the final Owen setting, "Strange Meeting", one of the most prominent expressions of the tritone is sung by the Tenor, addressing an opposing soldier with the words "Strange friend". This poem is accompanied by sporadic detached chords from two violins and a viola, which include the tritone as part of a dominant 7th chord. At the end of the poem, the final string chord resolves to the tonic
Tonic (music)
In music, the tonic is the first scale degree of the diatonic scale and the tonal center or final resolution tone. The triad formed on the tonic note, the tonic chord, is thus the most significant chord...

, bringing the work to its final, reconciliatory In paradisum. On a more practical level, Britten facilitated musical execution of the tritone in the closing bars by having the F# sung in one voice, but the C in another.

Four other motifs that usually occur together are distinct brass fanfares of the Dies Irae: a rising arpeggio
Arpeggio
An arpeggio is a musical technique where notes in a chord are played or sung in sequence, one after the other, rather than ringing out simultaneously...

, a falling arpeggio followed by a repeated note, a repeated fourth in a dotted rhythm ending in a diminished arpeggio, and a descending scale. These motifs form a substantial part of the melodic material of the piece: the setting of "Bugles sang" is composed almost entirely of variations of them.

One striking juxtaposition is found in the Offertorium
Offertory
The Offertory is the portion of a Eucharistic service when bread and wine are brought to the altar. The offertory exists in many liturgical Christian denominations, though the Eucharistic theology varies among celebrations conducted by these denominations....

, a fugue in the repeating three-part time scheme 6/8, 9/8, 6/8 where the choir sings of God's promise to Abraham
Abraham
Abraham , whose birth name was Abram, is the eponym of the Abrahamic religions, among which are Judaism, Christianity and Islam...

 ("Quam olim Abrahae promisisti, et semini eius" — "which you once promised Abraham and his seed"). This frames Owen's retelling of the offering of Isaac
Isaac
Isaac as described in the Hebrew Bible, was the only son Abraham had with his wife Sarah, and was the father of Jacob and Esau. Isaac was one of the three patriarchs of the Israelites...

, in which the angel tells Abraham to:
As the male soloists sing the last line repeatedly, the boys sing "Hostias et preces tibi, Domine" ("Sacrifice and prayers we offer thee, Lord"), paralleling the sacrifice of the Mass with the sacrifice of "half the seed of Europe" (a reference to World War I).

The whole of the Offertorium is a reference to Britten's earlier Canticle No. 2 "Abraham and Isaac" from 1952. Britten here uses much of the musical material of the earlier work, but the music in the Requiem is twisted into much more sinister forms.

Although there are a few occasions in which members of one orchestra join the other, the full forces do not join together until the latter part of the last movement, when the tenor and baritone sing the final line of Owen's poem "Strange Meeting" ("Let us sleep now…") as "In Paradisum deducant" ("Into Paradise lead them...") is sung first by the boys' choir, then by the full choir (in 8-part canon), and finally by the soprano. The boys' choir echoes the Requiem aeternam from the beginning of the work, and the full choir ends on the resolved tritone motif mentioned above.

Premiere and performances


For the opening performance, it was intended that the soloists should be Galina Vishnevskaya
Galina Vishnevskaya
Galina Pavlovna Vishnevskaya is a Russian soprano opera singer and recitalist who was named a People's Artist of the USSR in 1966.-Biography:...

 (a Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n), Peter Pears
Peter Pears
Sir Peter Neville Luard Pears CBE was an English tenor who was knighted in 1978. His career was closely associated with the composer Edward Benjamin Britten....

 (an Englishman
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

) and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is a retired German lyric baritone and conductor of classical music, one of the most famous lieder performers of the post-war period and "one of the supreme vocal artists of the 20th century"...

 (a German
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

), to demonstrate a spirit of unity. Close to the premiere, the USSR did not permit Vishnevskaya to travel to Coventry for the event, although she was later permitted to leave to make the recording in London. With only ten days' notice, Heather Harper
Heather Harper
Heather Harper CBE is a Northern Ireland-born British operatic soprano.She was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1930, where she received her early musical training...

 stepped in and learned the soprano role.

The premiere took place on May 30, 1962, in the rebuilt cathedral with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra is a British orchestra based in Birmingham, England. The Orchestra's current chief executive, appointed in 1999, is Stephen Maddock...

, conducted by Meredith Davies
Meredith Davies (conductor)
Meredith Davies CBE was a British conductor, renowned for his advocacy of English music by composers such as Benjamin Britten, Frederick Delius and Ralph Vaughan Williams....

 (accompanying soprano and chorus), and the Melos Ensemble, conducted by the composer (accompanying tenor and baritone). There was a profound silence between the final notes and the applause. It was a triumph, achieving an impact matched by few works in the twentieth century and accordingly hailed by critics and audiences, at this and subsequent performances in London and abroad, as a contemporary masterpiece. Writing to his sister after the premiere, Britten said of his music, "I hope it'll make people think a bit." On the title page of the score he 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."


Both the southern hemisphere and the North American first performances took place on the same day, 27 July 1963. The southern hemisphere premiere was in Wellington
Wellington
Wellington is the capital city and third most populous urban area of New Zealand, although it is likely to have surpassed Christchurch due to the exodus following the Canterbury Earthquake. It is at the southwestern tip of the North Island, between Cook Strait and the Rimutaka Range...

, New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

, with John Hopkins
John Hopkins (conductor)
John Hopkins OBE is a Yorkshire-born, British conductor and administrator. Hopkins moved to New Zealand in 1957 and to Australia in 1963. He conducted the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra in 1987 in one of New Zealand's first Orchestral Composers' Reading Workshops...

 conducting the New Zealand National Orchestra (now the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is the national orchestra of New Zealand. It is a crown entity owned by the Government of New Zealand, with 90 full-time players....

) and the Royal Christchurch
Christchurch
Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand, and the country's second-largest urban area after Auckland. It lies one third of the way down the South Island's east coast, just north of Banks Peninsula which itself, since 2006, lies within the formal limits of...

 Musical Society, with soloists Peter Baillie, Graeme Gorton and Angela Shaw. The North American premiere was at Tanglewood
Tanglewood
Tanglewood is an estate and music venue in Lenox and Stockbridge, Massachusetts. It is the home of the annual summer Tanglewood Music Festival and the Tanglewood Jazz Festival, and has been the Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer home since 1937. It was the venue of the Berkshire Festival.- History...

, with Erich Leinsdorf
Erich Leinsdorf
Erich Leinsdorf was a naturalized American Austrian conductor. He performed and recorded with leading orchestras and opera companies throughout the United States and Europe, earning a reputation for exacting standards as well as an acerbic personality...

 conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra
Boston Symphony Orchestra
The Boston Symphony Orchestra is an orchestra based in Boston, Massachusetts. It is one of the five American orchestras commonly referred to as the "Big Five". Founded in 1881, the BSO plays most of its concerts at Boston's Symphony Hall and in the summer performs at the Tanglewood Music Center...

 with soloists Phyllis Curtin
Phyllis Curtin
Phyllis Curtin is an American classical soprano who had an active career in operas and concerts from the early 1950s through the 1980s. She was known for her creation of new roles such as the title role in the Carlisle Floyd opera Susannah, Catherine Earnshaw in Floyd's Wuthering Heights, and in...

, Nicholas Di Virgilio, Tom Krause
Tom Krause
Tom Krause is a Finnish operatic baritone particularly associated with Mozart roles.Born in Helsinki, he first studied medicine, while singing and...

 and choruses from Chorus Pro Musica and the Columbus Boychoir.

The Dutch premiere took place during the Holland Festival
Holland Festival
The Holland Festival is The Netherlands' oldest and largest performing arts festival, and takes place every June in Amsterdam. It comprises theater, music, opera and modern dance. In recent years, multimedia, visual arts, film and architecture were added to the festival roster...

, in 1964. The Amsterdam
Amsterdam
Amsterdam is the largest city and the capital of the Netherlands. The current position of Amsterdam as capital city of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is governed by the constitution of August 24, 1815 and its successors. Amsterdam has a population of 783,364 within city limits, an urban population...

 Concertgebouw Orchestra
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is a symphony orchestra of the Netherlands, based at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. In 1988, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands conferred the "Royal" title upon the orchestra...

 and the Netherlands Radio Choir were conducted by Bernard Haitink
Bernard Haitink
Bernard Johan Herman Haitink, CH, KBE is a Dutch conductor and violinist.- Early life :Haitink was born in Amsterdam, the son of Willem Haitink and Anna Haitink. He studied music at the conservatoire in Amsterdam...

; the chamber orchestra (consisting of Concertgebouw Orchestra instrumentalists) by Britten himself. The soloists were Vishnevskaya, Fischer-Dieskau and Pears, in their first public performance together.

An interpretation of the work was performed by the English Chamber Choir at Your Country Needs You, an evening of "voices in opposition to war" organised by The Crass Collective in November 2002.

To commemorate the eve of the 70th anniversary of the destruction of the original cathedral a performance of the Requiem took place in the new cathedral on 17 November 2010 featuring the soprano Claire Rutter, the tenor Daniel Norman, baritone Stephen Gadd, The Parliament Choir, Saint Michael's singers, Deutscher Chor London, the ESO Chamber Orchestra, The Southbank Sinfonia, The Girl Choristers of Coventry Cathedral and was conducted by Simon Over and Paul Leddington Wright. A recording was made and broadcast a day later on Classic FM.

Recordings


The first recording, featuring Vishnevskaya, Fischer-Dieskau and Pears, with the London Symphony Orchestra
London Symphony Orchestra
The London Symphony Orchestra is a major orchestra of the United Kingdom, as well as one of the best-known orchestras in the world. Since 1982, the LSO has been based in London's Barbican Centre.-History:...

 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. Recording producer John Culshaw reports that Vishnevskaya threw a tantrum during the recording, thinking she should be placed with the male soloists instead of the choir. The newest CD reissue of Britten's recording includes 50 minutes of surreptitiously taped rehearsal footage at the time of the recording.

Other recordings of the work include the following:
  • EMI Classics: Elisabeth Söderström
    Elisabeth Söderström
    Elisabeth Anna Söderström CBE was a Swedish soprano, who performed both opera and song. She was particularly well known for her recordings of the lead soprano roles in the three Janáček operas Jenůfa, Káťa Kabanová, and The Makropoulos Affair, all of which received Gramophone Awards...

    , Robert Tear
    Robert Tear
    Robert Tear, CBE was a Welsh tenor and conductor.Tear was born in Barry, Glamorgan, Wales, UK, the son of Thomas and Edith Tear. He attended Barry Boys' Grammar School and during this period sang in the chorus of the first Welsh National Opera's production of 'Cavalleria Rusticana' in April 1946...

    , Thomas Allen
    Thomas Allen (singer)
    Sir Thomas Boaz Allen, CBE is an internationally renowned English operatic baritone. He is widely admired in the opera world for his voice, the versatility of his repertoire, and his acting - leading many to regard him as one of the best lyric baritones of the late 20th Century...

    ; CBSO Chorus
    City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus
    The CBSO Chorus is a chorus based in Birmingham, England. It is regarded as one of the finest symphony choruses in Europe.It was founded in 1974 as the CBSO Chorus, but between 1995 and 2009 was known officially as The City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus...

    ; Boys of Christ Church Cathedral Oxford; City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
    City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
    The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra is a British orchestra based in Birmingham, England. The Orchestra's current chief executive, appointed in 1999, is Stephen Maddock...

    ; Sir Simon Rattle
    Simon Rattle
    Sir Simon Denis Rattle, CBE is an English conductor. He rose to international prominence as conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and since 2002 has been principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic ....

    , conductor
  • Teldec: Carol Vaness, Jerry Hadley, Thomas Hampson; Westminster Symphonic Choir; American Boychoir; New York Philharmonic
    New York Philharmonic
    The New York Philharmonic is a symphony orchestra based in New York City in the United States. It is one of the American orchestras commonly referred to as the "Big Five"...

    ; Kurt Masur
    Kurt Masur
    Kurt Masur is a German conductor, particularly noted for his interpretation of German Romantic music.- Biography :Masur was born in Brieg, Lower Silesia, Germany and studied piano, composition and conducting in Leipzig, Saxony. Masur has been married three times...

    , conductor
  • BBC Legends: Stefania Woytowicz, Peter Pears
    Peter Pears
    Sir Peter Neville Luard Pears CBE was an English tenor who was knighted in 1978. His career was closely associated with the composer Edward Benjamin Britten....

    , Hans Wilbrink; New Philharmonia Chorus; Wandsworth School Boys' Choir; New Philharmonia
    Philharmonia
    The Philharmonia Orchestra is one of the leading orchestras in Great Britain, based in London. Since 1995, it has been based in the Royal Festival Hall. In Britain it is also the resident orchestra at De Montfort Hall, Leicester and the Corn Exchange, Bedford, as well as The Anvil, Basingstoke...

     Orchestra, Melos Ensemble; Carlo Maria Giulini
    Carlo Maria Giulini
    Carlo Maria Giulini was an Italian conductor.-Biography:Giulini was born in Barletta, Italy, to a father born in Lombardy and a mother born in Naples; but he was raised in Bolzano, which at the time of his birth was part of Austria...

    , Benjamin Britten, conductors
  • Chandos: Heather Harper
    Heather Harper
    Heather Harper CBE is a Northern Ireland-born British operatic soprano.She was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1930, where she received her early musical training...

    , Philip Langridge
    Philip Langridge
    Philip Gordon Langridge CBE was an English tenor, considered to be among the foremost exponents of English opera and oratorio....

    , John Shirley-Quirk
    John Shirley-Quirk
    John Shirley-Quirk CBE is an English bass-baritone.He was born in Liverpool, England, and sang in his high school choir. He played the violin and was awarded a scholarship. While studying chemistry and physics at Liverpool University, he studied voice with Austen Carnegie...

    ; London Symphony Orchestra
    London Symphony Orchestra
    The London Symphony Orchestra is a major orchestra of the United Kingdom, as well as one of the best-known orchestras in the world. Since 1982, the LSO has been based in London's Barbican Centre.-History:...

     and Chorus; Choristers of Saint Paul's Cathedral; Richard Hickox, conductor
  • Naxos: Lynda Russell, Thomas Randle, Michael Volle; Scottish Festival Chorus; BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
    BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
    The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is a broadcasting symphony orchestra based in Glasgow, Scotland. One of five full-time orchestras maintained by the British Broadcasting Corporation , it is the oldest full-time professional orchestra in Scotland...

    ; Martyn Brabbins
    Martyn Brabbins
    Martyn Brabbins is a British conductor. He studied at Goldsmiths College, London University, and later was a conducting student of Ilya Musin at the Leningrad Conservatory....

    , conductor
  • Deutsche Grammophon: Luba Orgonasova, Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Boje Skovhus; Monteverdi Choir
    Monteverdi Choir
    The Monteverdi Choir was founded in 1964 by Sir John Eliot Gardiner for a performance of the Monteverdi Vespers in King's College Chapel, Cambridge. A specialist Baroque ensemble, the Choir has become famous for its stylistic conviction and extensive repertoire, encompassing music from the early...

    ; Tölzer Knabenchor
    Tölzer Knabenchor
    The Tölzer Knabenchor is a boys' choir with roots in the Bavarian town of Bad Tölz.The choir group is still led by director and singing master Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden, who founded the choir in 1956 when he was only nineteen years old. The founder was once a student of Carl Orff's and worked with him...

    ; NDR Sinfonie-Orchester; John Eliot Gardiner
    John Eliot Gardiner
    Sir John Eliot Gardiner CBE FKC is an English conductor. He founded the Monteverdi Choir , the English Baroque Soloists and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique...

    , conductor
  • Telarc: Lorna Haywood, Anthony Rolfe Johnson
    Anthony Rolfe Johnson
    Anthony Rolfe Johnson, CBE was an English operatic tenor.-Life and career:Born in Tackley in Oxfordshire, Rolfe Johnson studied with Ellis Keeler and Vera Rosza at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He first appeared in opera in the chorus and in small roles at the Glyndebourne Festival...

    , Benjamin Luxon
    Benjamin Luxon
    Benjamin Matthew Luxon CBE is a retired British baritone.-Biography:He studied with Walter Grünner at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and established an international reputation as a singer when he won a third prize at the 1961 ARD International Music Competition in Munich...

    ; Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus; Atlanta Boy Choir
    Atlanta Boy Choir
    Atlanta, Georgia has been home to a performing boy choir since the Atlanta Boys Choir was founded as part of the music program in the Atlanta City School System in 1946. That early boy choir gave annual Christmas and Spring concerts at the Atlanta Municipal Auditorium and was composed of boys with...

    ; Robert Shaw
    Robert Shaw (conductor)
    Robert Shaw was an American conductor most famous for his work with his namesake Chorale, with the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus, and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Shaw received 14 Grammy awards, four ASCAP awards for service to contemporary music, the first Guggenheim Fellowship...

    , conductor
  • LPO: Christine Brewer, Anthony Dean Griffey, Gerald Finley; London Philharmonic Orchestra
    London Philharmonic Orchestra
    The London Philharmonic Orchestra , based in London, is one of the major orchestras of the United Kingdom, and is based in the Royal Festival Hall. In addition, the LPO is the main resident orchestra of the Glyndebourne Festival Opera...

     and Choir; Kurt Masur
    Kurt Masur
    Kurt Masur is a German conductor, particularly noted for his interpretation of German Romantic music.- Biography :Masur was born in Brieg, Lower Silesia, Germany and studied piano, composition and conducting in Leipzig, Saxony. Masur has been married three times...

    , conductor
  • Klavier: Jeannine Altmeyer, Ladd Thomas, Michael Sells; William Hall Orchestra and Chorale; William Hall
    William Hall
    William Nelson Hall VC was the first black person, first Nova Scotian, and third Canadian to receive the Victoria Cross...

    , conductor
  • Naxos: Christine Goerke, Richard Clement, Richard Stilwell; The Washington Chorus and Orchestra; Robert Shafer, conductor

Film adaptation



In 1988, the British film director Derek Jarman
Derek Jarman
Michael Derek Elworthy Jarman was an English film director, stage designer, diarist, artist, gardener and author.-Life:...

 made a screen adaptation of War Requiem of the same title
War Requiem (film)
War Requiem is a film adaptation of Benjamin Britten's musical piece of the same name.It was shot in 1988 by the British film director Derek Jarman with the 1963 recording as the soundtrack, produced by Don Boyd and financed by the BBC. Decca Records required that the 1963 recording be heard on its...

, with the 1963 recording as the soundtrack, produced by Don Boyd
Don Boyd
Donald William Robertson Boyd Hon D.Litt is a Scottish film director, producer, screenwriter and novelist...

 and financed by the BBC. It features the final film performance of Laurence Olivier
Laurence Olivier
Laurence Kerr Olivier, Baron Olivier, OM was an English actor, director, and producer. He was one of the most famous and revered actors of the 20th century. He married three times, to fellow actors Jill Esmond, Vivien Leigh, and Joan Plowright...

, in the role of an ageing war veteran.

External links