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Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem

The English pacifist classical composer Benjamin Britten’s 100th year of birth was celebrated last year. He died in 1976. Britten’s 1962 work War Requiem contains both Latin Mass texts and World War I poems by Wilfred Owen. The War Requiem reflects Britten’s life-long anti-war and pacifist views, and was commissioned for the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral in Coventry, England. That cathedral had been destroyed by the Germans during World War II. The work is scored for large orchestra, chorus, vocal soloists, and boys choir.

To mark the 50th anniversary of Britten’s War Requiem, last year the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which gave the North American premiere in July 1963, performed the work under conductor Charles Dutoit and the San Francisco Symphony preformed it under Semyon Bychkov. Earlier this year it was performed by the Atlanta Symphony and just last month by the Boston University Symphony. Here is a recent recording of the Britten War Requiem by the City of Birmingham Symphony conducted by Andris Nelsons, the new music director of the aforementioned Boston Symphony.

For those interested in seeing subsequent performances, the War Requiem will be performed by the UNC Symphony on March 5, 2015, by the Dayton Symphony on March 13 and 14, the Winnipeg Symphony on March 27 and 28, the Nashville Symphony on May 29 and 30, and the Melbourne Symphony (Australia) on June 11 and 12.

There are some other “antiwar” pieces in classical music, by the way, although without the same kind of explicit references as in Britten’s War Requiem. One example is Andrzej Panufnik’s 1957 work,  Sinfonia Elegiaca (Symphony No. 2) which, in his own words, is “my anti-war protest against violence and the aggressive element in mankind, and is an expression of my deep anguish for all war victims of all nationalities, all religions and all races throughout the world.” And this year is Panufnik’s own centennial as well. (He died in 1991.)

Here is an excerpt of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, provided by the Berlin Philharmonic’s YouTube channel:

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