Yale Camerata, Yale Glee Club, and Yale Symphony Orchestra will perform Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem.
About the War Requiem
—Information from English National Opera
During the Battle of Britain in 1940, the city of Coventry was subject to concentrated mass bombings in which many civilians lost their lives and much of the city was razed to the ground. The city’s medieval cathedral was virtually destroyed. After the war, it was decided to rebuild Coventry Cathedral to a new design by architect Basil Spence using modern materials and sited next to the shell of the original building. The spirit of the enterprise was one of reconciliation after conflict, reflected in the shell of the former cathedral remaining as a stark reminder of the conflict.
To celebrate the cathedral’s consecration in May 1962, a showcase arts festival was planned. In keeping with the ideals behind the building itself, the Coventry Cathedral Festival was intended as an international symbolic act of reconciliation, as well as a national celebration. It was against this background that Britten responded to an approach from the Coventry Cathedral Festival Committee for a new piece: “I should be very honoured to be connected with such a significant and moving occasion, and shall do my best to turn out something worthy of it.”
The commission afforded Britten a twofold opportunity: he was able to fulfil his long-held desire to compose a large‑scale choral work appropriate for such an important symbolic occasion; and it allowed him to air in public his long-held pacifist beliefs and his faith in humanity’s capacity for compassion. In his own words, he offered War Requiem as “an act of reparation”.
War Requiem’s first performance was on 30 May 1962 in Coventry Cathedral. The reception of the piece became rather more than its creator originally bargained for: it soon took on the mantle of a public statement of outrage against war, conflict and violence, sentiments that were only intensified in 1964 with the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War and the growing international discomfort with the atrocities unfolding in Vietnam.