Back to concert detail >>

Britten: WAR REQUIEM
April 6 & 7, 2017 7:30 pm
Cathedral of Saint John the Divine

Text & Translation
 

Requiem aeternam

Chorus
Requiem aeternam dona eis, domine, et lux 
   perpetua luceat eis.
Children
Te decet hymnus, Deus in Sion, et tibi reddetur 
   votum in Jerusalem. Exaudi orationem meam. 
   Ad te omnis caro veniet.
Chorus
Requiem aeternam dona eis, domine et lux 
   perpetua luceat eis.
 
Lord, grant them eternal rest and let perpetual light
shine upon him.
 
To you, Lord, are due songs of praise in Zion. To you
offerings are made in Jerusalem. Hear my prayer. 
To you come all who lived as flesh. 
 
Lord, grant him eternal rest and let perpetual light
shine upon him. 
Tenor 
   “Anthem for Doomed Youth”

What passing bells for these who die as cattle?
   Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
   Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them from prayers or bells,
   Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
   And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them at all?
   Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
   The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of silent minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds. 
Chorus
Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison
 
Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

Dies irae

Chorus
Dies irae, dies illa, solvet saeclum in favilla teste 
   David cum Sibylla.
 
Quantus tremor est futurus, quando judex est 
   venturus, cuncta stricte discussurus.
Tuba mirum spargens sonum per sepulchra 
   regionum coget omnes ante thronum.
Mors stupebit et natura, cum resurget creatura, 
   judicanti responsura.
 
The day of wrath, the day of grief. The ages will be
   crushed like a cinder, as David and the Sibyl 
   foretold.
How great a quaking there will be on that day when 
   the judge comes to weigh our every deed.
A wondrous trumpet will sound throughout the tombs 
   to call everyone before the throne.
Death and nature will be overcome as all creatures 
   rise from their graves to answer the judge's call.
Baritone 
   “But I Was Looking at the Permanent Stars”

Bugles sang, saddening the evening air;
And bugles answered, sorrowful to hear.
Voices of boys were by the river-side.
Sleep mothered them; and left the twilight sad.
The shadow of the morrow weighed on men.
Voices of old despondency resigned,
Bowed by the shadow of the morrow, slept.
Soprano
Liber scriptus proferetur, in quo totum 
   continetur, unde mundus judicetur.
Judex ergo cum sedebit quid quid latet, 
   apparebit. Nil inultum remanebit.
Chorus
Quid sum miser tunc dicturus? Quem patronem
   rogaturus, cum vix justus sit securus?
Soprano and Chorus
Rex tremendae majestatis qui salvandos salvas 
   gratis, salva me fons pietatis.
 
The book in which all acts are written, from which 
   the world will be judged, will be opened.
When the judge takes his place, whatever lies hidden
   will come to light. No act will remain unavenged. 
 
What then shall I, poor wretch, reply? Upon what 
   patron can I call when even the just are uncertain?

King of great majesty who gives salvation freely, 
   save me, fount of mercy.
Tenor and Baritone 
   “The Next War”

Out there, we've walked quite friendly up to Death;
   Sat down and eaten with him, cool and bland,—
Pardoned his spilling mess-tins in our hand.
We've sniffed the green thick odour of his breath,—
Our eyes wept, but our courage didn't writhe.
He's spat at us with bullets and he's coughed
   Shrapnel. We chorused when he sang aloft;
We whistled while he shaved us with his scythe.
Oh, Death was never enemy of ours!
   We laughed at him, we leagued with him, old chum.
No soldier's paid to kick against his powers.
   We laughed, knowing that better men would come,
And greater wars; when each proud fighter brags
He wars on Death—for Life; not men—for flags.
Chorus
Recordare Jesu pie, quod sum causa tuae viae. 
   Ne me perdas illa die.
Quaerens me sedisti lassus, redemisti crucem
   passus. Tantus labor non sit cassus.
Ingemisco, tanquam reus, culpa rubet vultus 
   meus. Supplicanti parce Deus. 
Qui Mariam absolvisti et latronem exaudisti, 
   mihi quoque spem dedisti.
Inter oves locum praesta, et ab hoedis me 
   sequestra. Statuens in parte dextra.
Confutatis maledictis flammis acribus addictis, 
   voca me cum benedictis.
Oro supplex et acclinis cor contritum quasi cinis
   Gere curam mei finis.
 
Remember, merciful Jesus, this is the reason for your
   journey. Do not condemn me on that day. 
In search of me you sat down weary, and redeemed
   me on the cross. Let not that great deed be in vain. 
I groan with guilt; my faults make me blush.
   I beg you, merciful God.
When you forgave Mary and heard the thief's prayers,
   you gave me hope. 
Separate me from the goats, and grant me a place
   among the sheep. Let me stand at your right side. 
When the damned are condemned to the devouring
   flames, call me among the blessed.
Kneeling and bowed, I plead with a heart crushed 
   like ashes. Help me on my last day.
Baritone 
   “On Seeing a Piece of Our Heavy Artillery Brought into Action”

Be slowly lifted up, thou long black arm,
Great gun towering toward Heaven, about to curse;
Reach at that arrogance which needs thy harm,
And beat it down before its sins grow worse;
But when thy spell be cast complete and whole,
May God curse thee, and cut thee from our soul!
Chorus
Dies irae, dies illa, solvet saeclum in favilla teste 
   David cum Sibylla.
 
Quantus tremor est futurus, quando judex est 
   venturus, cuncta stricte discussurus.
 
Soprano and Chorus
Lacrimosa dies illa, qua resurget ex favilla, 
   judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce Deus.
 
The day of wrath, the day of grief. The ages will be
   crushed like a cinder, as David and the Sibyl 
   foretold.
How great a quaking there will be on that day when 
   the judge comes to weigh our every deed.
 
 
There will be tears on that day, when from the ashes
   arise, the guilty to be sentenced. 
Then, God, spare these souls.
Tenor
   “Futility”

Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.
Soprano and Chorus
Lacrimosa dies illa
 
There will be tears on that day 
Tenor
Think how it wakes the seeds,—
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,
Full-nerved—still warm—too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
Soprano and Chorus
qua resurget ex favilla
 
when from the ashes arise
Tenor
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
Soprano and Chorus
judicandus homo reus.
 
the guilty to be sentenced
Tenor
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth's sleep at all?
Chorus
Pie Jesu domine, dona eis requiem. Amen
 
Merciful Lord Jesus, grant him rest. Amen

Offertorium

Children
Domine Jesu Christe, rex gloriae, libera animas
   omnium fidelium defunctorum de poenis 
   inferni, et de profundo lacu.
Libera eas de ore leonis, ne absorbeat eas 
   tartarus, ne cadant in obscurum.
 
Chorus
Sed signifer sanctus Michael repraesentet eas in
   lucem sanctam quam olim Abrahae promisisti 
   et semini ejus.
 
Lord Jesus Christ, king of glory, deliver the souls of 
   the faithful departed from the pains of hell and the
   bottomless pit.
Deliver them from the jaw of the lion, that hell not
   swallow them up. Do not let them fall into the
   darkness 
 
Let your standard-bearer Michael lead them into the
   holy light that was once promised to Abraham and
   his seed.
Tenor and Baritone 
   “The Parable of the Old Man and the Young”

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, "My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?”
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, "Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.”
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,—
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
Children
Hostias et preces tibi domine laudis offerimus.
Tu suscipe pro animabus illis, quarum hodie
   memoriam facimus.
Fac eas, Domine, de morte transire ad vitam, 
   quam olim Abrahae promisisti et semini ejus.
Chorus
quam olim Abrahae promisisti et semini ejus.
 
We offer, Lord, sacrifices and prayers of praise.
Receive them for the souls of those whom we
   remember today.
Let them pass from death to the life that was once
   promised to Abraham and his seed.
 
that was once promised to Abraham and his seed,

Sanctus

Soprano, Chorus, and Children
Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus. Dominus Deus 
   Sabaoth. Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis. Benedictus qui venit in 
   nomine Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis.
 
Holy, holy, holy. Lord God of multitudes. Heaven 
   and earth are filled with your glory.
Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in
   the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
Baritone 
   “The End” 

After the blast of lightning from the East,
The flourish of loud clouds, the Chariot Throne;
After the drums of Time have rolled and ceased,
And by the bronze west long retreat is blown,
Shall life renew these bodies? Of a truth
All death will He annul, all tears assuage?—
Fill the void veins of Life again with youth,
And wash, with an immortal water, Age?
When I do ask white Age he saith not so:
"My head hangs weighed with snow."
And when I hearken to the Earth, she saith:
"My fiery heart shrinks, aching. It is death.
Mine ancient scars shall not be glorified,
Nor my titanic tears, the sea, be dried."

Agnus Dei

Tenor
   “At a Calvary Near the Ancre”

One ever hangs where shelled roads part.
   In this war He too lost a limb,
But His disciples hide apart;
   And now the Soldiers bear with Him.
Chorus
Agnus Dei, qui tollis pecata mundi, dona eis
   requiem.
 
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
   grant him rest
Tenor
Near Golgotha strolls many a priest,
   And in their faces there is pride
That they were flesh-marked by the Beast
   By whom the gentle Christ's denied.
Chorus
Agnus Dei, qui tollis pecata mundi, dona eis
   requiem.
 
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
   grant him rest
Tenor
The scribes on all the people shove
   And bawl allegiance to the state,
Chorus
Agnus Dei, qui tollis pecata mundi
 
Lamb of GOd, who takes away the sins of the world
Tenor
But they who love the greater love
   Lay down their life; they do not hate.
Chorus
Don eis requiem sempiternam.
 
Grant him everlasting rest.
Tenor
Dona nobis pacem.                       Give us peace

Libera me

Chorus
Libera me, domine, de morte aeterna, in die illa
   tremenda quando coeli movendi sunt et terra 
   dum veneris judicare saeculum per ignem.
Soprano and Chorus
Tremens factus sum ego, et timeo dum discussio
   venerit, atque ventura ira, dies illa, dies irae,
   calamitatis et miseriae, dies magna et amara 
   valde.
 
Deliver me, O Lord, from eternal death on that fateful
   day when heaven and earth are shaken and you
   come to judge the generations with fire.

I tremble and am afraid of the devastation that is to
   come and of your anger on that day, that day of 
   wrath, of calamity and distress, a momentous day of
   intense bitterness.

Tenor
   “Strange Meeting”

It seems 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."
 
Baritone
"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 boldly, 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 from 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.”
 
Baritone and Tenor
Let us sleep now.
Children, then Chorus, then Soprano
In paradisum deducant te angeli.
In tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres et 
   perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem. 
Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro,
   quondam paupere, aeternam habeas requiem.
 
May the angels lead you into paradise.
May the martyrs receive you on your arrival and lead 
   you into the holy city Jerusalem. 
May a choir of angels receive you, and with Lazarus,
   once a poor man, may you have eternal rest.
Baritone and Tenor
Let us sleep now.
Children
Requiem aeternam dona eis, domine, et lux 
   perpetua luceat eis.
Chorus
In paradisum deducant te angeli et cum Lazaro,
   quondam paupere, aeternam habeas requiem.
Soprano
Chorus angelorum, te suscipiat et cum Lazaro, quondam paupere, aeternam habeas requiem.
 
Lord, grant him eternal rest and let perpetual light
   shine upon him.
 
May the angels lead you into paradise and with
   Lazarus, once a poor man, may you have eternal rest
 
May a choir of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, once a poor man, may you have eternal rest.
Baritone and Tenor
Let us sleep now.
Chorus
Requiescant in pacem. Amen.
 
Let them rest in peace. Amen.
  
Benjamin Britten
Born, November 22, 1913, in Suffolk
Died, December 4, 1976, in Aldeburgh


     On the evening of November 14, 1940 the German Luftwaffe attacked the city of Coventry; the attack lasted nearly eleven hours. Among the losses was the fourteenth century St. Michael’s Cathedral, which was almost completely destroyed. In the ensuing decade it was decided not to restore the old cathedral, but rather to build a new one that incorporated the ruins of the old as a remembrance of the destruction. An architectural competition was held and Basil Spence was selected to design the new cathedral. While work progressed on its construction, in 1958 Benjamin Britten was commissioned to compose a piece for the festival that was to accompany the new cathedral’s consecration. 
     There was initially some objection that Britten, a lifelong pacifist, had received the commission. He had not even been in England when Coventry was bombed, having spent 1939–42 in the United States where he collaborated with W. H. Auden on several works. After the United States entered the war and transatlantic travel was again permitted, Britten, homesick, returned to England; he composed Ceremony of Carols on the voyage. Back home, he applied for and received conscientious objector status. By the time he received the Coventry commission, Britten was the nation’s most prominent living composer. The Aldeburgh Festival, which he and his life partner Peter Pears had launched in 1947, was highly successful and the site of several Britten premieres. He’d been commissioned to write a piece to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, and a generation had grown up on his Young People’s Guide to the Orchestra. Equally important toward converting the opposition, the longterm effects of nuclear warfare were well known by the late 1950s, and the repeated episodes of Cold War brinksmanship made the prospect of all-out nuclear war frighteningly real. In that light, Britten’s politics were judged not all that radical.
     The Coventry commission gave him complete freedom to compose whatever he wished. From this freedom evolved War Requiem, which interweaves the traditional Latin liturgy for the dead and the uncompromisingly honest war poetry of Wilfred Owen (1893–1918), a young officer killed in battle one week before the World War I armistice. Owen came of age as a poet on the battlefield and at the suggestion of his doctor while on medical leave suffering from battle fatigue. He rejected the idea that war is noble, as expressed in the Horace ode often quoted during the war: “It is sweet and right to die for your country.” Owen called it “the great lie.” In a Preface found among his belongings, he wrote, "My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity. Yet these elegies are not to this generation. All a poet can do to-day is warn.” Britten added his voice to the warning, inscribing these words on the title page of War Requiem, which he dedicated to four friends, three of whom had died in World War II and the fourth who had later committed suicide.
     War Requiem is a complex composition with three distinct performing realms. A large orchestra, chorus, and soprano soloist sing the Latin liturgy and represent the mourners. Tenor and baritone soloists, the soldiers, are accompanied by a chamber orchestra and sing nine Owen poems. Placed apart from these realms, a children’s choir, accompanied by a positive organ and singing from the traditional liturgy, interjects strains of serene innocence and the heartbreaking realization that they may be the next generation of soldiers. (Britten scored this for a boy choir, as was the custom of the time. With the contemporary military comprising both men and women, it is appropriate that the choir now includes boys and girls.) The full and chamber orchestras, at times diverging from the singers, range from the brass and percussion recollections of marches and battlefields to intimate and poignant strains of empathy.
     War Requiem is not simply a rite for the dead. Rather, it mourns for all who suffer the devastations of war—soldiers on the battlefield, those who grieve, children who may grow to be soldiers, an ancient church that had served the faithful for more than 500 years. It offers little comfort and evokes the terror of Verdi’s Requiem, which Britten admired. Like Fauré, however, Britten includes a glimpse of Paradise that is not part of the traditional Requiem.
     Acknowledging that reconciliation forms a path to lasting peace, Britten selected his soloists from among the formerly adversarial nations: tenor Peter Pears (English), baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (German), and soprano Galina Vishnevskaya (Russian). Shortly before the premiere, however, the Soviet Union refused to grant Vishnevskaya permission to participate and Heather Harper substituted for her.
     War Requiem begins with the tolling of bells and a sad procession of mourners. It is answered by the first Owen poem that asks, "What passing bells for these who die as cattle?” Throughout, the poetry echoes the liturgy. Thus, the blaring call of the trumpet heralding the last judgment is paralleled by the bugles of battle. Similarly, the jubilant chorus that proclaims the promise of salvation that God made to Abraham is countered by Owen’s retelling of the story. In his version, despite the angel’s reprieve, Abraham’s pride leads him to kill his son "and half the seed of Europe, one by one.” It is interrupted by the children’s choir singing sweetly about offering sacrifices and praise to a merciful God. Later, the sobs of the “Lacrymosa” for the lives cut short are interrupted by the tenor asking, “Was it for this the clay grew tall?”
     The Sanctus–Benedictus–Hosanna sequence deviates from the somber tone of the Requiem, relieving God of blame for the sins of war. At its conclusion, the baritone expresses doubt that even the promised life after death can dry the earth’s “titanic tears.” Then the pattern changes and the tenor soloist sets the scene for the liturgy instead of echoing it. He sings of all who have forgotten the message of the Lamb of God and “bawl allegiance to the state,” ending with a crushingly mournful “dona nobis pacem.” 
     “Libera me,” the last section, begins with a mournful march and the terrified chorus singing a prayer for deliverance from “eternal death” and leads seamlessly to the last Owen poem, Strange Meeting. In death, two adversaries meet: “I am the enemy you killed, my friend.” For them, the battle is over—“Let us sleep now”—while the soprano and combined choruses tell of the angels that will lead them, together, into Paradise. The bells toll as they did at the beginning of the piece and the hushed chorus prays for everyone’s eternal rest.
     War Requiem premiered on May 30, 1962 in the new St. Michael’s Cathedral, which had been consecrated five days before. The concerns about the appropriateness of a pacifist composition for a war memorial proved totally unfounded. The London Times declared it an “instantly acknowledged masterpiece.” Fischer-Diskau said of the first performance, “I was completely undone. I did not know where to hide my face. Dead friends and past suffering arose in my mind,” and Peter Pears noted “the stunned silence in which the audience shuffled out.” Comparing it to his other works, Britten commented, “I suppose War Requiem is the piece I hope will be remembered longest. But that is not because of the music; it is because of the message contained within, which I hope will be used for many years to come.”
     The Oratorio Society performed War Requiem at Coventry Cathedral in 1984 in celebration of 40 years of peace in Europe and in Carnegie Hall in 2013, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Britten’s birth. Now, nearly a century after Owen’s death, his plea still echoes: dona nobis pacem.

—Marie Gangemi
 
ABOUT OSNY
Music Director/Staff
Current Members
Board of Directors
Volunteer Staff
History

WATCH & LISTEN
Videos & Recordings
 
SEASON & TICKETS
Subscriptions
Students/Groups
Ticket Pricing

MAILING LIST
Join our mailing list
 
MEMBERSHIP
Auditions
Members Login

SOLO COMPETITION
About the Competition
Rules & Application
Finals Concert
Past Winners
 
EDUCATION
High School Program
Choral Scholars

SUPPORT OSNY
Make a Donation
Contributors
Auction Fundraiser
Store
 
PRESS SECTION
Press Resources

NEWS
Features
Photo Gallery

CONTACT US
Privacy Policy
  


 

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________