At a Glance
Benjamin Britten composed his War Requiem in response to a commission to celebrate the consecration of St. Michael's Cathedral in Coventry, England. The original cathedral was destroyed by German bombing raids during World War II. The War Requiem received its world premiere at the cathedral on May 30, 1962.
A lifelong pacifist and a conscientious objector during World War II, Britten created a work that expressed his disdain for the conflict that led to the destruction of the cathedral. In the War Requiem, he juxtaposes the text of the Latin Mass for the Dead with poems by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918), an English officer killed in battle in World War I one week before the Armistice. Stripped of any romanticism or patriotic fervor, Owen's poems graphically depict the horrors of war. Indeed, Owen repeatedly portrays enemy soldiers as kindred spirits, innocent pawns in the hands of those who send them off to battle.