Orchester und Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin
Donald Runnicles, conductor
Benjamin Britten’s moving “War Requiem” is a reminder and a testimony to the suffering of war. First performed in 1962, the story behind its creation reflects the aftermath of the Second World War, while the texts borrowed from the author Wilfred Owen, who died in 1918, reflect the First World War. Donald Runnicles conducts what is perhaps Britten’s most important work at the Musikfest Berlin.
A work of reconciliation
This concert is an insightful counterpoint to the central theme of the Musikfest Berlin. A series of vocal works with or without instruments by Stravinsky culminated in his last vocal symphonic opus, the “Requiem Canticles” (see concert on 19th September). Excerpts from the Latin Mass for the Dead provided the texts. A whole series of vocal and instrumental, secular and sacred works by Benjamin Britten led up to his “War Requiem”, written in 1961/62, five years before Stravinsky’s “Canticles”: the “Sinfonia da Requiem”, the “Ballad of Heroes”, “Our Hunting Fathers” and others. The “War Requiem” was composed for the consecration of Coventry’s New Cathedral. The old cathedral had been destroyed by Hitler’s Air Force bombers in mid-November 1940, and its ruins now stand as a solemn reminder of the war.
Britten placed poems by Wilfred Owen, who was killed at the age of 25 on the French front during the final days of the First World War, amidst the well-known liturgical texts of the “Missa pro defunctis”. The tension between ancient tradition and the young poet’s accusing, unmasking verses inspired Britten to compose music of which Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau confessed after the premiere, “that I was completely undone and did not know where to hide my face”. The full-length “War Requiem”, a call for remembrance, encouragement and caution ultimately became a work of reconciliation.