Innisfree Garden, Early September

September 2, 2016

September 2, 2016

The photographs were taken at Innisfree Garden September 2 and September 11, 2016.

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Listening List

Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, Op. 66 (1961)

Michael Steinberg wrote

The War Requiem . . . was tied to a pair of events—the destruction of Coventry Cathedral in an air raid during the night of November 14‑15, 1940 and its reconsecration more than twenty‑one years later—that were heavily freighted with history and emotion. Its first performance was planned as an international event with respect both to participants and audience. Most important, the War Requiem was a weighty and poignant statement on a subject of piercingly urgent concern to much of humankind. For 1961 was the year of the Bay of Pigs and of the construction of the Berlin Wall; both that year and in 1962, United States involvement in Vietnam increased frighteningly. [citation]

The text for the War Requiem is the Latin Mass for the Dead, interspersed with nine poems by WWI poet Wilfred Owen. The complete text may be found here.

. . . Owen composed nearly all of his poems in slightly over a year, from August 1917 to September 1918. In November 1918 he was killed in action at the age of twenty-five, one week before the Armistice. Only five poems were published in his lifetime . . . [citation]

The War Requiem is in six movements:

  • Requiem aeternam (Eternal Rest)
  • Dies irae (Day of wrath)
  • Offertorium (Bringing offerings)
  • Sanctus (Holy)
  • Agnus Dei (Lamb of God)
  • Libera me (Deliver me)

The work calls for large forces, about which Michael Steinberg wrote:

The basic division of the performers is into two groups, reflecting the dual source of the words, which stand in a relation of text (the Latin Missa pro defunctis) and commentary (the nine Owen poems). The Latin text is the province essentially of the large mixed chorus, but from this there is spillover in two opposite directions, the solo soprano representing a heightening of the choral singing at its most emotional, the boys’ choir representing liturgy at its most distanced. The mixed chorus and solo soprano are accompanied by the full orchestra; the boys’ choir, whose sound should be distant, by an organ. All this constitutes one group. The other consists of the tenor and baritone soloists, whose province is the series of Owen songs and who are accompanied by the chamber orchestra. [citation]

Steinberg’s program notes for the War Requiem may be found here.

Further general information on the War Requiem may be found at Listening to Britten hereAdditional materials, including the complete text and an analysis of each section may be found here. A thorough talk on the “Story Behind the Music” may be found hereUseful video materials, including thoughts and responses from student performers, may be found hereThe Britten/Pears Foundation offers audio-visual materials about the War Requiem here.

Performers in both the Spotify and YouTube recordings:

  • Benjamin Britten: Composer (and conductor), London Symphony Orchestra
  • Melos Ensemble, London Symphony Orchestra Chorus, Highgate School Choir, The Bach Choir
  • Galina Vishnevskaya: Soprano, Sir Peter Pears: Tenor, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau: Bass, Simon Preston: Organ

Spotify recording is here.


Credits: The sources for the quotations are as indicated in the post. The photographs, as always on the blog unless otherwise indicated, are mine.


September 11, 2016

10 thoughts on “Innisfree Garden, Early September

  1. David N

    For the incongruity between the early-autumn serenity of Innisfree and the horrors blazoned in Britten’s War Requiem, there is only one possible poetic connection: Auden’s A Summer Night (‘Out on the lawn I lie in bed’). We Norfolk church walkers were remembering how we were hiking the South West Coast Path a day or two after 9/11 broke, the bizarre unreality of peaceful Fowey and Polperro as set against our anxieties. Two were due to fly to America shortly after that and only one (eventually) made it.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      David: Your poetic connection is truly poetic, and your story of Norfolk church walking, as well, reminiscent of New York City itself, where September 11, 2001, was a brilliant blue-sky day.

  2. shoreacres

    i enjoyed your focus on trees this time — at least, it seemed as though there were more limbs and trunks than usual. All of the photos are enticing; it’s such a beautiful place. Do I remember that they close in the winter? or was that another place you like? In any event, it’s good to see you getting out and about while the flowers and foliage are so pretty, and the season hasn’t turned.

    Strangely, I came across Sassoon this week, but didn’t give a thought to Owen. I’m glad to be reminded of his poetry. I never see Coventry without thinking of the ‘Coventry Carol’ — quite different from the Britten, but of course they’re quite different forms, and a good bit of history separates the two. I’ve not heard the Requiem, but I’m putting off listening until this weekend. I’m having to put in long days at work just now, to meet a deadline — let’s just say I’m not the most attentive when I get home!

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      shoreacres: I hadn’t though of it, but yes, you’re right, more trees, limbs, and trunks this time. I often take “tree” photos, but more often than not they don’t look like much when I get them home. Our in-house WWI expert (we have walls lined with WWI-related books) introduced me, over time, to many WWI poets. I remember early on a tremendous exhibit at the Imperial War Museum in London featuring several WWI poets. Very moving. I remember being particularly struck by Isaac Rosenberg, killed on the battlefield in 1918. I just looked, and the War Museum has a nice summary of 9 WWI poets here: Here’s a Rosenberg poem:

      Break of Day in the Trenches Related Poem Content Details

      The darkness crumbles away.
      It is the same old druid Time as ever,
      Only a live thing leaps my hand,
      A queer sardonic rat,
      As I pull the parapet’s poppy
      To stick behind my ear.
      Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
      Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
      Now you have touched this English hand
      You will do the same to a German
      Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
      To cross the sleeping green between.
      It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
      Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
      Less chanced than you for life,
      Bonds to the whims of murder,
      Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
      The torn fields of France.
      What do you see in our eyes
      At the shrieking iron and flame
      Hurled through still heavens?
      What quaver—what heart aghast?
      Poppies whose roots are in man’s veins
      Drop, and are ever dropping;
      But mine in my ear is safe—
      Just a little white with the dust.

  3. hilarymb

    Hi Susan – what a great post … and so appropriate for the 11th. I’m so glad you referenced it and gave us some notes to highlight aspects – War Requiem … I shall remember and the tie in with the dates …

    I’ve never been to Coventry Cathedral … one day I must.

    Loved the photos of Innisfree … cheers Hilary

  4. Steve Schwartzman

    The classical satellite radio station I listen to in my car has been announcing that this month marks the 110th anniversary of Shostakovich’s birth.

    Coincidentally I spoke with someone named Steinberg yesterday: my dentist. That made me wonder now how much music people have created about teeth. Turns out there’s plenty, but I won’t vouch for its quality:

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Steve: And today is the very day of Shostakovich’s birth! It’s hard to fathom 110th–he seems so present. As for music and teeth, there is a brilliant group of singers called “Roomful of Teeth.” I don’t know whether they’ve done a song about teeth, but here’s a beauty called “Sarabande,” from Caroline Shaw’s Pulitzer Prize winning Partita for 8 Voices: She is the youngest composer ever to receive the Pulitzer Prize for music.

      1. Steve Schwartzman

        Happy D-Day (Dmitri Day).

        I was surprised by the sudden surge in volume at around 2:20 and the appearance of the pedal (I think that’s what it’s called) and didjeridu-like sounds near the end that lasted till the end of the piece. Particular to me, most likely: a couple of times I thought the music was about to turn into that of Jerome Kern’s line “You are the promised kiss of springtime.”

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