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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. The result, the War Requiem, is regarded by many as his masterpiece in the non-operatic sphere.

Britten intersperses his setting of the traditional Latin Missa pro Defunctis with nine poems of the First World War poet Wilfred Owen, resulting in highly subtle and powerful contrasts and ironies. Written in a direct style, the War Requiem carries overwhelming conviction, and concert audiences the world over continue to respond to its timeless relevance.

This video was produced by the Britten-Pears Foundation and appears on boosey.com with its kind permission. It is 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.

Also view the BPF video on Britten's opera Billy Budd.

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