Music defied horror

Composer Sir Michael Tippett
Composer Sir Michael Tippett

November 1918: the Armistice that ended the First World War was signed between Britain, France and Germany.

November 1938: Kristallnacht, the horrific orgy of state-sanctioned looting, arson and murder targeting Germany's Jewish population sounded the overture to the renewed hostilities that were to break out less than a year later.

November 2018: both events will be commemorated in a concert on Saturday (Nov 3) when Sheffield Oratorio Chorus joins forces with the Northern Chamber Orchestra and soloists to perform Michael Tippett's secular oratorio A Child of Our Time and Gabriel Fauré's Requiem.

Loved by modern singers and audiences alike for its serene and lyrical beauty, the Requiem was premiered at a funeral mass in 1888, when Fauré was in his early forties. The composer revised and added to the score following that first performance.

Although essentially a shortened version of the Catholic Mass for the Dead, it substitutes a soprano solo (Pie Jesu) for the traditional Dies Irae sequence and concludes with part of the burial liturgy (In Paradisum).

In the composer's own words, the Requiem “is dominated from beginning to end by a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest”.

Not so Tippett's masterly A Child of Our Time. Composed during the Second World War, this was his response to the events of November 9 and 10, 1938 when mobs in Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland vandalized, ransacked and destroyed Jewish homes, businesses, schools and synagogues in response to the shooting of a German diplomat in Paris by a teenaged Jewish refugee, Herschel Grynszpan.

Thousands of Jewish men were arrested and sent to prison or concentration camps; almost 100 were killed on those two nights of destruction. Mockingly dubbed 'Kristallnacht' – for the shattered glass littering pavements - the atrocity was officially blamed on 'spontaneous public sentiment' but in fact sponsored, abetted and condoned by the Nazi Party.

A lifelong pacifist who was imprisoned for his refusal to aid the military effort, Tippett was outraged and deeply affected by the Holocaust – and by the devastation of Europe initiated by the Nazis. He began to compose A Child of Our Time the day after war was declared in 1939, completed it in 1941 and oversaw its first performance in 1944.

The libretto, also by Tippett's hand, centres on man's inhumanity to man and the need to confront the lessons of history bravely and with compassion.

The highly original score is interspersed with settings of spirituals that function much as the chorales do in JS Bach's Passions.

The work, unfamiliar and difficult to early audiences, is now accepted as a 20th-century masterpiece alongside Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, which Sheffield Oratorio Chorus performed to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme two years ago.

Soloists at Sheffield Cathedral will be Sally Harrison (soprano), Marie Elliott (mezzo-soprano), Richard Pinkstone (tenor) and James Oldfield (bass). The concert starts at 7.30pm, with tickets (£17, concessions £14, students and under-16s £5) available from the Blue Moon Café on St James Street S1, 2EW, online (www.oratorio.org.uk) or on the door.