He was a central figure of 20th-century British music, with a range of works including opera, other vocal music, orchestral and chamber pieces. His best-known works include the opera Peter Grimes (1945), the War Requiem (1962) and the orchestral showpiece The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (1945).
❝ It is cruel, you know, that music should be so beautiful. It has the beauty of loneliness of pain: of strength and freedom. The beauty of disappointment and never-satisfied love. The cruel beauty of nature and everlasting beauty of monotony.❞
❝ Composing is like driving down a foggy road toward a house. Slowly you see more details of the house-the color of the slates and bricks, the shape of the windows. The notes are the bricks and the mortar of the house.❞
❝ The old idea of a composer suddenly having a terrific idea and sitting up all night to write it is nonsense. Nighttime is for sleeping.❞
Sinfonia Da Requiem, Op. 20
City Of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by: Simon Rattle
2. Dies Irae
3. Requiem Aeternam
and conducted by the composer himself
New Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by: Benjamin Britten
Britten’s words about Sinfonia Da Requiem:
Lacrymosa. A slow marching lament in a persistent 6/8 rhythm with a strong tonal center on D. There are three main motives: 1) a syncopated, sequential theme announced by the cellos and answered by a solo bassoon; 2) a broad theme, based on the interval of a major seventh; 3) alternating chords on flute and trombones, outlined by piano, harps and trombones. The first section of the movement is quietly pulsating; the second is a long crescendo leading to a climax based on the first cello theme. There is no pause before:
Dies irae. A form of Dance of Death, with occasional moments of quiet marching rhythm. The dominating motif of this movement is announced at the start by the flutes and includes an important tremolando figure. Other motives are a triplet repeated-note figure in the trumpets, a slow, smooth tune on the saxophone, and a livelier syncopated one in the brass. The scheme of the movement is a series of climaxes of which the last is the most powerful, causing the music to disintegrate and to lead directly to:
Requiem aeternam. Very quietly, over a background of solo strings and harps, the flutes announce the quiet D-major tune, the principal motive of the movement. There is a middle section in which the strings play a flowing melody. This grows to a short climax, but the opening tune is soon resumed, and the work ends quietly in a long sustained clarinet note.
According to Herbert Glass, Britten composed the Sinfonia da Requiem as a memorial to his parents. It was also an expression of the composer’s lifelong pacifism and a reaction to the darkening political developments that led eventually to the Second World War. He had, in fact, recently settled in the United States because of Britain’s involvement in the war. In an article published on 27 April 1940, he told the New York Sun, “I’m making it just as anti-war as possible … I don’t believe you can express social or political or economic theories in music, but by coupling new music with well-known musical phrases, I think it’s possible to get over certain ideas … all I’m sure of is my own anti-war conviction as I write it.”