The War Requiem, Op. 66 is a large-scale, non-liturgical setting of the Requiem Mass composed by Benjamin Britten in 1962. 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).
The War Requiem was commissioned for the reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral on May 30, 1962 after the original fourteenth century structure was destroyed in a World War II bombing raid on the night of November 14, 1940. As a pacifist, Britten was inspired by the commission, which gave him complete freedom in choosing the type of music he would like 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.
Libera me (soprano solo and chorus)
Strange Meeting ("It seems that out of battle I escaped") (tenor and baritone soli)
In paradisum (All)
Conclusion -Requiem Aeternam and Requiescat in Pace (Organ, Boys` choir and Mixed Chorus)
It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
"Strange friend," I said, "here is no cause to mourn."
"None", said the other, "save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress,
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Miss we the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even from wells we sunk too deep for war,
Even the sweetest wells that ever were.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Peter Pears (tenor)
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone)
London Symphony Orchestra
Benjamin Britten cond.