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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Britten: War Requiem

05/25/2014 1:00 pm
05/25/2014 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

Benjamin Britten's War Requiem has gone over the air on this program twice before on the Sunday of the Memorial Day weekend (Sundays May 29, 1988 and May 27, 1990.) The memorial behind Britten's requiem has more to do with the Armistice ending World War One on November 11, 1918. That's why I last broadcast it on Sunday, November 6, 2005.

Britten was a pacifist. He declined to fight in World War Two. The poetry of Wilfred Owen, killed at the tender age of 25 just before the Armistice, served as a constant reminder to Britten of the horror and futility of war. "All a poet can do is warn," so Wilfred Owen wrote. Britten's settings of his poems are a ghastly, monumental musical warning to the world of what war should have taught us, but which it seems we still refuse to learn. Owen's verse is interwoven with the Latin text of the Mass for the Dead.

Britten's War Requiem was recorded for the British Decca/London record label shortly after its concert premiere with the composer conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, the London Bach Choir, the Melos Ensemble and the Highgate School boys' choir, with distinguished vocal soloists of fully half a century ago. In the lineup are Britten's longtime lover and musical partner tenor Peter Pears, German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya. Again this Sunday you'll hear the Decca CD reissue of that defining 1963 recorded interpretation.