War Requiem

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The War Requiem, Op. 66 is a large-scale, non-liturgical setting of the Requiem Mass composed by Benjamin Britten mostly in 1961 and completed January 1962.[1] Interspersed with the traditional Latin texts are pasted, collage-like, settings of Wilfred Owen poems. The work is scored for soprano, tenor and baritone soloists, chorus, boys' choir, organ, and two orchestras (a full orchestra and a chamber orchestra). It has a duration of approximately 85 minutes.

Contents

Composition

The War Requiem was commissioned for the reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral on 30 May 1962 after the original fourteenth century structure was destroyed in a World War II bombing raid on the night of 14 November 1940. The reconsecration was an occasion for an arts festival, for which Michael Tippett also wrote his opera King Priam, which premiered in Coventry the night before the War Requiem.

As a pacifist, 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 interwoven with nine poems about war by the English poet Wilfred Owen. 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 in France, just one week before the Armistice. Although he was virtually unknown at the time of his death, he has subsequently come to be revered as one of the great war poets.

Philip Reed has discussed the progression of Britten's composition of the War Requiem in the Cambridge Music Handbook publication on the work.[2] Britten himself acknowledged the stylistic influence of the Requiems of other composers such as Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem on his own composition.[3]

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