One hundred years ago – on July 1, 1916 – began the military campaign we now know as the Battle of the Somme.
Tens of thousands lost their lives on that first bloody day of four and a half months of mud and massacre; including 513 officers and men from the Sheffield Pals Battalion.
Almost five decades and a second World War later, Benjamin Britten composed one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated choral masterpieces. His War Requiem had its first performance in Coventry on 30 May 1962 to mark the consecration of the city’s newly built cathedral, following the destruction of the medieval cathedral during the Coventry Blitz of November 1940.
Now, half a century further on, Sheffield Oratorio Chorus will commemorate the Somme centenary with a performance of Britten’s iconic War Requiem on 2 July in Sheffield Cathedral. Scored for adult and children’s voices, orchestra, chamber orchestra, organ, piano and soloists, this is a challenging and thrilling setting of the traditional requiem mass alongside moving verses written in the trenches by Wilfred Owen – who was himself a casualty of the 1914-1918 war.
The poet described his theme quite unequivocally: “My Subject is War, and the Pity of War”. The Chorus’ Musical Director Alan Eost explains: “ With Owen’s words very much in mind, Britten conceived his Requiem as a musical gesture of reconciliation and hope for a peaceful future; at its first performance the tenor soloist was British (Peter Pears), the baritone (Dietrich Fischer Dieskau) German and the solo soprano part was written for the Russian Galina Vishnevskaya.”
The Chorus’ partners on 2 July will be the Northern Chamber Orchestra, choristers from Sheffield Cathedral, soprano Laura Mitchell, tenor Mark Wilde and baritone Ross Ramgobin, with Jonathan Gooing at the piano and organist Fraser Wilson. Conductors will be Alan Eost, Neil Taylor and Joshua Hales.
The performance is due to start at 8pm, with a 6.30 pre-concert talk by Britten specialist Professor Mervyn Cooke from the University of Nottingham. Tickets are priced at £20 and £15 (concessions £17 and £12) and can be obtained online (www.oratorio.org.uk), from the Blue Moon Cafe, adjoining the cathedral, or from SOC members.
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