Today is Remembrance Sunday in the UK, when we remember all those who lost their lives in the struggle for peace and freedom. Remembrance Sunday has many musical connections, ranging from Benjamin Britten through Arvo Pärt, to George Lloyd, who was himself traumatised in action.
Next Saturday I will be at a performance in Norwich Cathedral of Herbert Howell's 1936 Requiem. This is an economic, intense and moving work that lasts for little more than fifteen minutes, and is scored for SSAATTBB and organ. There is an excellent recording of it on Naxos by the Choir of St Johns' College, Cambridge directed by Christopher Robinson. The CD also includes Take him, earth, for cherishing, the motet composed by Howells to mark the assasination of President John F. Kennedy. We will be remembering that sad event just five days after the Norwich Cathedral performance of Howell's Requiem.
My footer photo is a reminder of one of the more obscure musical connections to Remembrance Sunday. It shows the Cenotaph in Whitehall where the nation remembers the war dead today. The stark monument was designed by the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, whose daughter we caught recently walking with Stravinsky. And that mention of 'Twelve-tone Lizzie' brings me to an important question that lies behind my scepticism about the current media hype surrounding John Foulds' World Requiem. Why does our public music of remembrance have to be 'accessible' and not too challenging? Why does it have to be so 'Classic FM'?
If you must have your Nimrod, but you like to be tonally challenged, why not try Thomas Adès' first string quartet Arcadiana? This was first performed at the Cambridge Elgar Festival in 1994. It is quintessential Adès, and you definitely won't hear it on Classic FM. But the sixth movement is titled O Albion, and for seventeen devotissimo bars in E flat, the key of Nimrod, it movingly pay homage to the time of Elgar and those that died in the trenches of the Somme. But if you come from the World Requiem 'big is beautiful' school why not try Geoffrey Burgon's 1976 Requiem, and give your loudspeakers a real workout? More on Geoffrey Burgon here.
In his peerless War Requiem Benjamin Britten stressed reconciliation as well as remembrance by specifying (but not obtaining) a British, German and Russian soloist for the work's first performance in Coventry Cathedral, the preserved ruins of which are seen below. If, like me, you value reconciliation as well as remembrance, and are uncomfortable with the jingoism associated with the Albert Hall, I give you two personal choices of music for Remembrance Sunday.
Toru Takemitsu's Requiem (for string orchestra) was written in 1957 in memory of the Japanese film composer Fumio Hayasaka. It is a slow, elegiac work lasting a little over ten minutes. The three movements are marked Lento, Modére and Moins lent. Disarmingly the composer later explained "I was never able to write an Allegro ..."
I write this waiting for the start of the BBC broadcast from the Cenotaph. A CD is playing that moves me even more than the Nimrod that will be played in a few minutes. Eleven young choristers from the famous Kreuzchor were among more the 25,000 killed in the British and American bombing of Dresden on February 13th 1945. As well as the terrible loss of its choristers, the famous choir also lost its its neogothic choir school on the Georgplatz, its library of sheet music and archive, and its very raison d'être, the beautiful Kreuzkirche (Church of the Holy Cross) which dated from the 13th century.
The cantor of the Kreuzkirche, Rudolf Mauersberger, completed his Dresden Requiem in 1961. It is a profoundly moving memorial to the victims of the bombing of Dresden. But it was also a living symbol of Dresden's resistance to the repressive political regime in the GDR until Die Wende in 1989. There is an excellent recording of the Dresden Requiem by the Kreuzchor on the German Carus label. My header image is a session photo from the recording in Dresden's Lukaskirche in 1994. This has been the venue for many famous recordings, including Herbert von Karajan's 1970 Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
Rudolf Mauersberger's Dresden Requiem was written for the boy's voices of the Kreuzchor. Much of the singing is a capella, but the score also uses a small ensemble of organ, celeste, trombones, double basses and percussion. It is certainly not atonal, but neither is it 'Classic FM'. And it has been performed in Dresden every year since its premiere more than fifty years ago.
You can read the full story of the Dresden Requiem, and listen to samples, here. To my knowledge it has never been performed in London. Let us remember the dead of the bombing of Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki today, as well as all other victims of war. And let us hope for a London performance of Rudolf Mauersberger's Dresden Requiem in the future.
* Update - read here how the World Requiem un-Foulded.
Follow this path to see Dresden restored from the ruins.
Image credits. Header Carus, middle Wikipedia, footer Ministry of Defense Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk