Choir, Orchestra (choral score)
(1961-62) Choral Score. Composed by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976). BH Large Choral. British, Classical, Contemporary, Mass. 80 pages. Boosey & Hawkes #M060015571. Published by Boosey & Hawkes (HL.48009030).
Item Number: HL.48009030
For soprano, tenor and baritone solos, chorus, orchestra, chamber orchestra, boys' choir and organ
Scoring: 3 (3=picc), 2, ca, 3 (III=cl in Eb and bass cl), 2, dbl bn; 6, 4, 3, 1; timps, 4 perc (2 sd, td, bd, tamb, trgl, cymb, castanets, whip, Chinese blocks, gong, bells in C and F#, vibr, antique cymbals in C and F#); piano, grand org (ad lib); strings.Chamber orch: fl (=picc), ob (=ca), cl, bn; hn; perc (timp, sd, bd, cymb, gong); harp, string quintet (2 vl, vla, vc, db)Chamber organ (or harmonium) to accompany boys' choir
Text: Missa pro defunctis and Wilfred Owen
Publisher: Boosey & Hawkes
Difficulty level: 5
In many ways this magnum opus, one of the 20th century's defining works, was also Britten's defining moment. For a long time Britten had felt that the gap in his output was a major choral/orchestral work. When Coventry mounted an Arts Festival to celebrate the dedication of its new cathedral in 1962 Britten was an obvious choice to ask for a major work. This, for Britten, was the opportunity for which he had been waiting. As a lifelong, passionate pacifist it was his opportunity to write a work which reminded its audience of the reason for the building of this new cathedral, but also, and far more importantly, to demonstrate in the most powerful way possible the horror, devastation, futility and utter waste of war.
His inspired idea was to mix the words of the Missa pro defunctis (Mass for the Dead) in Latin with the poems of one of the greatest of the First of the spirit War poets, Wilfred Owen. He uses nine of Owen's poems which form a kind of song cycle which weaves in and out of the formal sections of the Latin Mass.
When Britten's recording was released the following year it sold 200,000 copies within the first five months which was almost unheard of for a classical work, and possibly unique for a large-scale contemporary one. This was the moment of destiny for which Britten had been preparing all his adult life. The peace movements of the 1960s, the Cuban missile crisis, nuclear testing, anti-nuclear protests, the war-weariness of the seemingly endless conflict in Vietnam, all these things contributed to the public's readiness to hear this message which Britten so powerfully addressed.
Duration: 85 minutes
Paul Spicer, Lichfield, 2011.