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May 28, 2012

Music for Memorial Day from Britten's 'War Requiem' with the late Fischer-Dieskau

On this Memorial Day, I wanted to hear the profound ending of Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem," a work that has been on my mind for two reasons -- its premiere 50 years ago this week, and one of the soloists at that first performance, baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who died earlier this month.

Among that singer's most indelible performances was the one he gave in Britten's extraordinary reflection on the toll of war -- all wars, all sides. The Requiem weaves together the Latin Mass for the Dead and gripping poetry by Wilfred Owen, who was killed a week before the cease-fire that ended World War I.

For the premiere in 1962 (and the first recording the next year), the two male soloists in the work were Peter Pears and Fischer-Dieskau -- an Englishman and a German, adding an extra layer of meaning to the first performance, given for the reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral, which had been destroyed during World War II.

The final section of the Requiem incorporates Owen's searing poem "Strange Meeting." The last lines: "I am the enemy you killed, my friend/I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned/Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed./I parried; but my hands were loath and cold./Let us sleep now ..."

Britten turns those last three lines into a deeply moving coda. Here's that passage now, with ...

the voices of Fischer-Dieskau and Pears intertwined so poignantly, as the chorus sings of paradise and rest. (My compliments to whoever created this fine YouTube post, which so vividly brings home the message of Memorial Day.):

Posted by Tim Smith at 6:10 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens


a wonderful reminder. thank you.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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