Type: Review
Pages: 7 | Words: 1847
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In Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, Britten uses the customary texts of Latin but in a very inventive and creative way like a genius. He spreads the customary liturgy with English poems and forming a tension between the conventional pieties and the modern viewpoint of death.

The War Requiem of Benjamin Britten is irate, thought provoking, disquieting, and often discordant. It also has passage of lyricism and immense softness. It compares the splendor inbuilt in mankind to the cruelty of war. With an inconclusive ending and offering to easy answer or comfort, this war requiem is very different from others. The conventional Mass expresses the eventual assurance of deliverance; but Benjamin Britten sought to convey that assurance right up close against a 20th Century poet’s send off from the front line – an inflexible point of anguish, ineffectiveness, resentment, annoyance and disappointment.

A number of Britten’s methods:


Britten utilizes diverse ways to produce the projected emotional corollary; he is an expert of musical adaptation and cantata procedure.

His utilization of cadence is sometimes extremely difficult, with diverse assemblage of musical group performing in diverse tempo simultaneously. His intention is to highlight the dissimilarities amid the dissimilar assemblage in the montage that he is painting.

At other instances the cadence is moderately meager and straightforward but disconcerting, as in numerous channels where the musical beat are seven instead of a usual six or eight to the bar. The outcome is frequently finely tuned by syncopation (emphasizing the feeble instead of the powerful beats).


A technique which sounds even unfamiliar to westbound people than the multifarious cadence is known as heterophony. The utterance was at first invented by the prehistoric Greek theorist Plato; however heterophony forms mostly in Asian melody, mainly in Southeast Asia. Britten was exceptionally fascinated in oriental melodious structure, appliances, scales or methods, and so on, which persuaded a great deal of his own composition. He launched heterophony into the ‘Sanctus’ segment of the War Requiem.

The singing group separates into eight segments, with every division hymning the similar expressions but at dissimilar ground and not necessarily concurrently each other. It’s to a certain extent hard to explain in expressions – you have to listen to it.

Divergent to all the customary mores of harmonic singing, individual voices are not to be coordinated here, not even with the other voices in the same part of the chorus.The whole route must pursue a delicate but specific tempo. The group plays in a series of tremolos and quavers and to make a sense out of it the group line has to be linked with definite points with the free tune.

The line which says Earth and Heaven are packed with your brilliance (Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua).The words (‘Heaven and earth are full of your glory’) are recurring apparently persistently, becoming ever more overexcited tune, with diverse voices incoming and parting the surge of resonance at unusual times.

The entire passage begins very gently and slowly moves up to an enormous culmination which is followed by total quietness. From there on the Chores leaps into a luminous Hosanna segment which is very astonishing.


One of the devices used by Benjamin Britten is used in the beginning of the Requiem and saturates the entire work. This is said to be the Tritone. In any form of music, an interval or gap is the variation in pitch amid two different notes. The Tritone is something different, it is the space between three different notes but also can be said to be amplified 4th.

It is an unpleasant space, so much so that it was avoided in early music, and even loathed as the exertion of the evil spirit. Its consequence is intensely disturbing and worrying, and Britten uses this consequence to follow us all through his War Requiem. According to Benjamin Britten, in the way one is always being followed by the Grim Reaper.

Musical Forces of the War Requiem

Benjamin Britten’s work Requiem is for a large group with alarge double mixed choir, baritone soloists, grand organ, piano, orchestra, a boys’ choir with organ or harmonium, tenor and Soprano.It totally depends on the situation one performance, but for this War requiem normally 2-3 conductors are required to keep the whole thing together. As his operas reveal, Benjamin Britten had an intelligent nature for the theatrical – a nature which is very much in proof in his War Requiem.

Benjamin Britten wanted that the soloists be signified the diverse parts in the disagreement. He wrote for Peter Pears who was an English Tenor, for Dietrich Fischer who was a German baritone and who had taken part in WW2 and for Galina Vishnevskaya who was a Russian soprano. This reflects the passion that Benjamin Britten had for reconciling between the former enemies for one another.

The Opening Performance

Benjamin Britten along with Pears had been to Russia before the final composition of the War Requiem. They drove across Europe even with the bad condition of roads and fuel shortage. In their stay they became friends with cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, his wife Galina Vishnevskaya who was the star of the Moscow Bolshoi Opera, novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn and famous Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich.

When Benjamin Britten was composing the War Requiem, he wrote a soprano part for Galina Vishnevskaya specially. She was astonished but was not comfortable to sing it in English but Britten wanted her to sing in English and not Russian. He asked her if she could sing it in Latin to which she agreed and this turned out to be good for everyone.

When Benjamin Britten completed his War Requiem, he sent it over to Russia where Galina Vishnevskaya started to prepare for the performance. Britten arranged her travel to Coventry for his opera, but disaster struck when just 10 days before the original performance the Soviet Authorities did not permit her to leave Russia for England.

All the work now seemed to be unsuccessful. Benjamin Britten was having a problem to find a soprano on such a diminutive notice to perform his new music. For Benjamin Britten a blessing in disguise in the form of Heather Harper came further to rescue Britten and save the day. On May 30th 1962, she performed in the Coventry Cathedral. The War Requiem won instant success and praise. Nowadays it is performed all over the world. In 1962 at the Westminster Abby, the War Requiem of Benjamin Britten was performed for the first time in London.

War Requiem Movements and formation

Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem consists of six different movements

Requiem Aeternam which is of 10 minutes

    • Requiem Aeternam which is the chorus and boys choral group
    • What passing bells is a mood solo

The next movement is of twenty seven minutes and is Dies Irae

    • Dies Irae is the chorus
    • Than comes Baritone solo performance with Bugles Sang
    • With semi chorus and solo of the soprano is Liber Scriptus
    • Next is Tenor solo with Out there we walked quite friendly up to death.
    • Women chorus with Recordare
    • Men chorus with Confutatis
    • Baritone Solo with Be slowly lifted up
    • The main chorus of Dies Irae
    • With Seprano and chorus comes Lacrimosa

Next movement is Offertorium which is of ten minutes

    • Boys choir is first with Domine Jesu Christe
    • The entire chorus sings with Quam olim Abrahae
    • Abram and Isaac
    • Boys choir singing Hostias et preces tibi
    • Ending with chorus of Quam olim Abrahae

The next movement is of ten minutes and is Sanctus

    • Starting with Benedictus and Sanctus which is the solo of the soprano and the chorus
    • Than comes the baritone solo which is After the blast of lightning

The shortest of all the movements is Agnus Dei which is of four minutes

    • The chorus of Agnus Dei with one ever hangs

The final movement is Libera me which is of twenty three minutes

    • Starting with Soprano solo is Libera me
    • Than the solo of baritone and tenor is Strange Meeting
    • Everyone will sing In Paradisum
    • Finally ending with Requiem Aneternam and Requiescant in Pace which is sung by the Boys choir, along with Mixed chorus and the Organ.

The prominent combination is found in the third movement, Offertorium, a line is being repeated three times where the choir sings the promise made to Abraham by God. This line is being mentioned of the time when Isaac told Abraham to offer the ram to God instead of your son to whom Abraham had replied if God wants my son that he must have him. When the male soloist is singing and repeating the last line again n again that we offer our prayers and sacrifice to the Lord, this is paralleling to the sacrifice of half of Europe in World War 1.

The tritone gap between F and C is a returning pattern, the happening of which coalesce the complete work. The gap is used both in circumstance which highlights the vocal expanse between F and C and those which determine them harmonically, reflecting the idea of disagreement and settlement present all through the work.

The Requiem movements of Libera me, aeternam and Dies irae conclude in a short vocal phrase which consists of the main slow notes which determines the tritone argument to a major chord of F, while in the concluding part of Agnus Der the tenor delineates an ideal 5th from C to G before going to F to decide the final chord of the Chorus. The tenor sings at the end of Dies Irae that what made the fiery sublight toil to break the sleep of the Earth.

There are 4 other patterns that frequently happen mutually are discrete impudence display of the Dies Irae. These include the rising and falling arpeggio which is pursued by a recurring note, a recurring 4th and a downhill scale. These motifs outline a considerable fraction of the musical matter of the section. There are a few instances when the orchestra members join the other but it is not until the ending part of the movement when the full forces join together to sing out the last part. They are singing to let the souls sleep and lead them into paradise. The War Requiem ends there.

War Requiem Recordings

After the first performance in Coventry, Vishnevskaya managed to go to England in 1963 exactly after eight months. She worked with Dieskau, Pears and Fischer and also with the composer who was conducting the Opera. The performance given by Vishnevskaya has yet to be surpassed. Over 250,000 copies were sold in the first 6 months of the performance which is said to be an unbelievable and extraordinary accomplishment for any classical work in the 20thCentury. In 1991 Heather Harper the original singer recorded the War Requiem. These recording are kept with the London Symphony Chorus and the London Symphony Orchestra and they both have won prominent awards including Grand prix du Disque and the Grammy. Nowadays you can find many available recording but to enjoy the wonderful experience it is highly recommended that everyone should watch it live. During his life, Benjamin Britten got many honors both from his home and abroad with the icing on the cake coming when he became Lord Benjamin Britten. In 1976, Benjamin Britten died.

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