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War Requiem

Forum Karlín, Pernerova 53, Praha 8 - Karlín, 186 00
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16. 11. 2017

A staunch pacifist, the British composer Benjamin Britten (1913–1976) most boldly expressed his antimilitary sentiment in the oratorio War Requiem, in which he responded to the two tragic global armed conflicts of the 20th century, their horrors and victims.

He wrote the work in 1962 for the re-consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral, which was built after the original structure had been destroyed in a Nazi air-raid. Seventeen years following the end of the war, which were marked by unceasing efforts to maintain peace and during which the world saw the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, whom the composer greatly admired, at the time when the US was in the midst of its 20-year military misadventure in Vietnam, Britten created the work as a clearly voiced warning. Bearing witness to his pacific message is his quoting Wilfred Owen on the score’s title page: “All a poet can do today is warn.” Britten combined the traditional Latin text used in the mass for the dead with verse by Owen, a British infantry officer who was killed in France a mere week before the end of WWI, stressing that every war is evil, resulting in nothing but ruin and suffering. Sharing Owen’s opinion, Britten duly created a work that is monumental and grandiose, as well as intimate and profoundly human.

To demonstrate the unity of Europe, the composer wanted the singers at the premiere, on 30 May 1962, to be the Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, the British tenor Peter Pears and the German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Notwithstanding that the Soviet authorities did not permit Vishnevskaya to travel to Coventry for the event — and she was replaced by the British soprano Heather Harper — Britten’s intention, today perhaps even more topical than it was at the time, would come true a year later, when a unique studio recording of the oratorio was made and released by Decca Records.

author: Benjamin Britten

conductor: Andreas Sebastian Weiser

chorus master: Adolf Melichar, Pavel Vaněk, Jiří Chvála

cast: Tatiana Pavlovskaya, Andrew Staples, Roman Trekel

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