Saturday, November 12, 2011

War Requiem

I listened this evening to the last part of Britten's War Requiem, in the recording featured here, digitally remastered and sounding amazingly new. I first experienced it in the spring of 1964, when it was performed in the Kelvin Hall arena in Glasgow, in that extraordinary time when Glasgow didn't have a decent concert hall after the destruction by fire of the St Andrew's Halls. I was studying at the time for Higher Music, and a few of us went to hear the work because one of our teachers was singing in the choir and had been talking about it for weeks.

In that one evening I learned a great deal. In the printed programme I was able to take home two new sets of words to set me alight: the poems of Wilfred Owen and the words of the Mass. Both were completely new to me. In fact, I had read hardly any twentieth century poetry at that time, and thought I didn't really care about poetry. And as for religion ....

Tonight I was struck once more by the complete aptness of the music for the words, for the scenes evoked, and for my mood. The pity of war, and the poetry - both are there. But listen to the Libera Me section and you'll hear the horror of war too - the wailing shells, the thudding guns, the pattering orisons of the rifles. No matter if history points an altered gun - the music transcends it.

If only there could be a requiem for war itself...

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