for soprano, tenor and baritone solos, chorus, orchestra, chamber orchestra, boys' choir and organ
Scoring: 3 (3=picc), 2, ca, 3 (III=cl in Eb and bass cl), 2, dbl bn; 6, 4, 3, 1; timps, 4 perc (2 sd, td, bd, tamb, trgl, cymb, castanets, whip, Chinese blocks, gong, bells in C and F#, vibr, antique cymbals in C and F#); piano, grand org (ad lib); strings.Chamber orch: fl (=picc), ob (=ca), cl, bn; hn; perc (timp, sd, bd, cymb, gong); harp, string quintet (2 vl, vla, vc, db)Chamber organ (or harmonium) to accompany boys' choir
Text: Missa pro defunctis and Wilfred Owen
Publisher: Boosey & Hawkes
Difficulty level: 5
In many ways this magnum opus, one of the 20th century's defining works, was also Britten's defining moment. For a long time Britten had felt that the gap in his output was a major choral/orchestral work. When Coventry mounted an Arts Festival to celebrate the dedication of its new cathedral in 1962 Britten was an obvious choice to ask for a major work. This, for Britten, was the opportunity for which he had been waiting. As a lifelong, passionate pacifist it was his opportunity to write a work which reminded its audience of the reason for the building of this new cathedral, but also, and far more importantly, to demonstrate in the most powerful way possible the horror, devastation, futility and utter waste of war.
His inspired idea was to mix the words of the Missa pro defunctis (Mass for the Dead) in Latin with the poems of