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.):