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Edward Benjamin Britten
1913 - 1976
Great Britain, England
Picture Picture
E.B. Britten
Benjamin Britten (22/11/1913 - 04/12/1976), an English composer. He was born, by happy coincidence, on St. Cecilia's Day, at the family home in Lowestoft, Suffolk, England. His father was a dentist. He was the youngest of four children, with a brother, Robert (1907), and two sisters, Barbara (1902) and Beth (1909). He was educated locally, and studied, first, piano, and then, later, viola, from private teachers. He began to compose as early as 1919, and after about 1922, composed steadily until his death.
Britten was awarded the Order of Merit in March 1965; he was created a Life Peer, Baron Britten of Aldeburgh in the County of Suffolk, in the Queen's Birthday Honours List, June, 1976. Three years earlier, in May, 1973, he had undergone open heart surgery which left him an invalid for the remainder of his life. He was nevertheless able to attend the London premiere of Death in Venice at Covent Garden, October, 1973, and was able to travel to Germany and Italy. He died at his home in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, on 4 December 1976 and is buried in the churchyard of the Aldeburgh Parish Church. His colleagues Peter Pears and Imogene Holst, co-founders with BB of the Aldeburgh Festival, lie in adjacent graves.
Author:Vincent Brann
War requiem
Period:Modernism
Composed in:1961
Musical form:free
Text/libretto:Latin mass and poems by Wilfred Owen
Duration:85'
In memory of:four of Britten's friends who were killed during WW I: Roger Burney, Piers Dunkerley, David Gill, Michael Halliday
Label(s):Listen: Naxos 8.553558-9
The War Requiem (opus 66) was written for the reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral and was first performed there 30 May 1962. Coventry Cathedral had been destroyed during the Battle of Britain in World War II. Britten was commissioned to write a piece for the ceremony marking the completion of a new cathedral, designed by Basil Spence, built along side the the ruins of the original millenium-old structure. Since the work was to be performed inside the new cathedral, it was a good acoustic challenge for Britten. The ceremony was comprised of several works, including Tippett's opera King Priam.
The War Requiem was not meant to be a pro-British piece or a glorification of British soldiers, but a public statement of Britten's anti-war convictions. It was a denunciation of the wickedness of war, not of other men. The fact that Britten wrote the piece for three specific soloists - a German baritone (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau), a Russian soprano (Galina Vishnevskaya), and a British tenor (Peter Pears) - demonstrated that he had more than the losses of his own country in mind, and symbolized the importance of reconciliation. (Unfortunately Vishnevskaya was not available for the first performance, and had to be replaced by Heather Harper). The piece was also meant to be a warning to future generations of the senselessness of taking up arms against fellow men.
The first London performance was on 6 Dec 1962, in Westminster Abbey. The work received immediate critical acclaim and was hailed as a masterpiece. It was widely performed both in Britain and abroad. Perhaps the combination of English poetry with the familiar text of the Latin mass made the requiem accessible to such a range of listeners and caused it to be so well received.
Later, the War Requiem was incorporated into a movie with the same name. The movie, which would have otherwise been silent, is a strange, dark work. Most of it seems completely pointless, which leaves one wondering if that was the intention -- to show how pointless war is. For the text of the War Requiem, Britten interspersed the Latin Mass for the Dead with nine poems written by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918), a World War I footsoldier who was killed a week before the Armistice. In total contrast to The Spirit of England, written by Britten's compatriot Edward Elgar, the War Requiem was a decidedly antiwar piece. The Spirit of England was also an epic work in which poetry was set to music, but it brought forth quite a different message.
Among the settings commemorating the dead of the two world wars are John Foulds’s World Requiem (1919–21) and Britten’s War Requiem (1961), the latter providing graphic comment on the tragic futility of war by its juxtaposition of war poems by Wilfred Owen with texts of the Latin requiem mass.
Author:Steven Chang-Lin Yu
Picture
W. Owen
(text)