Release: Friday 26th October 2018

Requiem, The Pity of War
Wednesday 5th December 2018, 7:30pm
Barbican Hall, London
Ian Bostridge ● Antonio Pappano

November 11th 2018 brings the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. Marking this momentous occasion, Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano, well established as a masterly tenor-piano duo on Warner Classics, have assembled Requiem. This programme of 19 songs spans almost 50 years, from the final decade of the 19th century to the height of World War II. Gustav Mahler and Kurt Weill are joined by two composers of both promise and achievement whose lives were cut short by the Great War, the Englishman George Butterworth (1885-1916) and the German Rudi Stephan (1887-1915).

Ian Bostridge points out that the songs in Requiem were not directly inspired by the First World War. Some of them deal with the subject of war, while others take up such poetic themes as erotic love and the passing of time. The British tenor explains how Requiem came about: “The idea of putting together a programme to mark the centenary of the Armistice first came to me in a performance of Britten’s War Requiem in Montreal in 2016. Britten’s 1963 masterpiece is a work I have performed many times. [He has also recorded it for Warner Classics with Pappano, Anna Netrebko, Thomas Hampson and the forces of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.] It had always intrigued me in its use of the experience of the trenches, reflected and refracted in Wilfred Owen’s poetry, to commemorate the destruction of Coventry Cathedral by aerial bombardment in the Second World War … Yet, in fact, how little art song literature the Great War itself directly generated. It is hard to construct a first-rate ‘trench life’ programme; and Britten’s settings of Wilfred Owen in the War Requiem, for tenor and baritone soloists and chamber orchestra are perhaps the closest thing to a First World War song cycle that exists. How might one reflect the experience and significance of the conflict of 1914 to 1918 in a song recital?”

The programme opens with three songs from Mahler’s folk song-inspired collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn – ‘Revelge‘, ’Der Tamboursg’sell’ and ‘Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen‘. They are followed by Rudi Stephan’s cycle of six songs, Ich will dir singen ein Hohelied, a title which evokes the biblical Song of Songs. Composed in 1913-14 in a style that straddles Romanticism and modernism, the songs set sensual poems by Gerda von Robertus (1872-1939). Then there are six songs from George Butterworth’s poignant and lyrical collection A Shropshire Lad. He composed them around 1910 to poems by AE Housman which were written in the shadow of the Second Boer War (1899-1902) and read by many English soldiers during World War I. Kurt Weill’s Four Walt Whitman Songs date from 1942, seven years after the Jewish composer had settled in New York as a refugee from Nazi Germany. Whitman wrote the texts during the American Civil War (1861-1865) – the most famous is ‘O Captain! My Captain!’ – and Weill’s music, acknowledging his new home, incorporates elements of blues and Broadway.

Antonio Pappano, appropriately for one the of the world’s leading conductors, points out that the pianist should echo orchestral colours in these songs. In a number of them – such as Mahler’s ‘Revelge’ and Weill’s ‘Beat, Beat the Drum’ – the keyboard evokes a military tattoo, while in others it must conjure up a ghostly atmosphere as young men’s voices speak from beyond the grave.

“There is a tremendous variety of colour and harmonic approach in these songs,” says Pappano. “It’s amazing how history had a hand in creating and inspiring them. The horror and – as Wilfred Owen said – the pity of war are very much present in these songs, but there is also anger and loss. They are very dramatic and hugely compelling for an audience.

Ian Bostridge and Sir Antonio Pappano perform Requiem, The Pity of War at London’s Barbican Hall on Wednesday 5th December 2018.


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