World War & Peace Anniversaries

Across the current decade we commemorate the outbreak of war and the return to peace in two world conflicts. Most significantly we reach the Centenary of the First World War (1914-18).

2014 Centenary of the start of the First World War
2014 75th Anniversary of the start of the Second World War
2015 70th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War
2018 Centenary of the end of the First World War
2019 80th Anniversary of the start of the Second World War
2020 75th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War

Explore the themes of war and peace through the following selected works. These include music written by composers in response to the personal loss of friends killed in action, settings of war poetry and testimony from different eras and nationalities, and works extolling the virtues of peace in opposition to the horrors of war.

The repertoire ranges across a century from Howells's moving Elegy, written in 1917 while the First World War still raged, to Karl Jenkins's For The Fallen, composed for the Festival of Remembrance in 2010.



Click to jump down:
Adams: The Wound-Dresser
Bernstein: Symphony No. 3 (Kaddish)
Britten: Ballad of Heroes
Britten: Sinfonia da Requiem
Britten: War Requiem
Finzi: Farewell to Arms
Howells: Elegy
Jenkins: The Armed Man
Jenkins: For the Fallen
Panufnik: Katyn Epitaph
Panufnik: A Procession for Peace
Reich: Different Trains
Strauss: Metamorphosen


Britten: War Requiem
for soprano, tenor and baritone soloists, chorus, boys' choir, orchestra, and chamber orchestra
Commissioned to celebrate the opening of the new cathedral at Coventry, built to replace the one destroyed by bombs, Britten used the opportunity to write a large-scale composition embodying his deeply held pacifist and humanitarian beliefs.
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Jenkins: The Armed Man
for chorus and orchestra
This 'Mass for Peace' not only describes the horrors of military conflict but offers the hope of peace as an end to warfare. With over 1200 performances since its premiere in 2000, it is the most frequently programmed new work for choir and orchestra of recent decades. 
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Jenkins: For The Fallen
for narrator, SATB chorus and orchestra
A setting of Laurence Binyon’s famous ode honouring the war dead, familiar from Remembrance Day services, including the lines “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them”.
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Adams: The Wound-Dresser
for baritone and chamber orchestra
Adams sets Walt Whitman's seminal text, recounting the poet's own experiences as a nurse during the American Civil War. 
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Bernstein: Symphony No. 3 (Kaddish)
for orchestra, mixed chorus, boys' choir, speaker, and soprano solo
The composer's setting of the eponymous Jewish prayer, chanted in synagogue on the occasion of any death, but which itself never mentions "death". 
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Britten: Ballad of Heroes
for tenor (or soprano) solo, chorus, and orchestra
Another product of his working relationship with Auden and the left-wing author, Randall Swingler, Ballad of Heroes is one of Britten’s most powerful statements from the politicized 1930s, written for the Festival of Music for the People.
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Britten: Sinfonia da Requiem
for orchestra
Ostensibly written as a requiem memorial to his parents, the Sinfonia was also Britten’s reaction to the developing menace of the war which evoked some of his most powerful orchestral writing.
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Finzi: Farewell to Arms
for tenor and small orchestra
This pair of songs, composed in 1926/7 and 1945, provides a meditation on the brevity of life and the memory of earlier soldiering days: "His helmet now shall make a hive for bees". 
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Finzi: Requiem da camera
for orchestra
The Requiem da camera, one of Finzi's early works dealing with the subject of the futility of war, was written in memory of Ernest Farrar, his composition teacher who was killed at the end of the First World War.   
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Howells: Elegy
for solo viola, string quartet, and string orchestra
An early piece, composed as a personal tribute to a fellow student at the Royal College of Music killed in the First World War, Elegy is a prescient early pointer towards Howells’s later memorial works.
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Panufnik: A Procession for Peace
for orchestra
"I composed this short orchestral work having no affiliation to any peace organisation nor to any political party. I furnished it with this dedication: 'To peace-loving people of every race and religion, of every political and philosophical creed.' "
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Panufnik: Katyn Epitaph
for orchestra
"I dedicated this piece to the memory of the 15,000 Polish patriots who were slaughtered while completely defenceless, and who had committed no other crime than to wish to defend their own country."
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Reich: Different Trains
for string quartet and tape
"I travelled back and forth by train frequently between New York and Los Angeles from 1939 to 1942 accompanied by my governess. While the trips were exciting and romantic at the time I now look back and think that, if I had been in Europe during this period, as a Jew I would have had to ride very different trains." 
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Strauss: Metamorphosen
for 23 solo strings
Lushly scored for an orchestra of 23 solo strings, Metamorphosen is a heartfelt lament for World War II’s desecration of German culture. Strauss composed it during the closing days of the war in 1945 in the wake of the bombing of Dresden and the destruction of the Goethe house in Frankfurt. Read on...
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Operas exploring themes of war and peace include:
Offenbach  Les Fées du Rhin
Prokofieff  War and Peace
Prokofieff  Semyon Kotko
Strauss  Friedenstag
Schwertsik  Der ewige Frieden
Weinberger  Wallenstein

War Requiem Documentary

Watch a documentary on the creation of the War Requiem, by kind permission of the Britten-Pears Foundation. This video was produced as part of a series of documentary films produced by the BPF, which are available to presenters for pre-performance events, on web sites, in foyers and within special exhibitions.