Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Poetry is in the Pity

Last night my choir started rehearsal on Benjamin Britten’s opus magnum, his War Requiem. It is a work of grand scope utilizing a full-size symphonic chorus and orchestra, a chamber orchestra, organ, children’s chorus, soprano, tenor and bass soloists. We sightread the piece last night, woodshedding as we went along. I know from listening to it (and writing about it in a term paper in college) that it is a profound work; indeed, a meditation on the nature of war itself. English poet and World War I soldier Wilfred Owen wrote, “My subject is War, and the pity of War…the Poetry is in the Pity.” Britten interposes the traditional Latin text of the Mass for the Dead with the war poems of Owen.

Here are the first lines of the poems which Britten brought into the Requiem, followed by the title of the poems:

What passing bells for those who die as cattle? (Anthem for Doomed Youth)
Bugles sang, sadd’ning the evening air (Voices, The Next War, Sonnet On Seeing a Piece of Our Artillery Brought Into Action, and Futility)
So Abram rose, and clave the wood (The Parable of the Old Man and the Young)
After the blast of lightning from the East (The End)
One ever hangs where shilled roads part (At a Calvary Near the Ancre)
It seemed that out of battle I escaped (Strange Meeting)

Here’s a website I found which talks about the War Requiem.

It takes a space as large as a Cathedral to enter into the mysticism of the work. One of the reasons I sing with the Cathedral Choral Society, instead of Choral Arts or any one of the other fine symphonic choirs in town, is the chance to make music in this grand space. It’s not only that the space is grand, it’s that the Cathedral itself is a place to escape the noise of everyday life and enter into one’s thoughts. Maybe that’s a little too philosophical. The Cathedral itself acts as a musical instrument: its architecture resonates with certain types of music, especially that of choir, and organ (and surprisingly, bagpipes).

In the coming months, I’ll talk each Tuesday about our rehearsal process and the music that Britten wrote. I think that talking about the process of making music will underscore the value of the artifacts that audio archivists and music librarians aim to preserve and give access to.


At Wed Mar 29, 04:23:00 PM, Anonymous samantha said...

Great piece. Last thing I did with the ASO. Read what Shaw has to say about it...totally amazing. :)


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