Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Academy Of American Poets Celebrates World And American Poetry, Classical Music, Politics, and Sound

"Benjamin Britten, one of the best-known British composers of the twentieth century, began his prolific career in the 1930s by composing scores for documentaries produced by the General Post Office Film Unit. The job, which was sponsored by the British government, allowed him to showcase his creativity--in one film, for example, Britten recreated the sound of a train going through a tunnel by recording a cymbal, then reversing it. ...

But Britten’s most celebrated melding of poetry and music was the large-scale composition of six movements, War Requiem, performed in 1962 for the opening of the new cathedral in Coventry, built to replace a cathedral destroyed by bombs during World War II. Britten wrote the piece for three soloists, a chamber orchestra, a full choir and main orchestra, and a boys’ choir and organ. He used the Latin text of the Requiem Mass, or Mass for the Dead, along with nine poems of Wilfred Owen, the World War I poet who died just days before the signing of the 1918 Armistice. The somber and powerful work, which expressed the composer’s anti-war sentiments, was well received by critics and audiences alike.

In 1989 director Derek Jarman produced the film War Requiem, transposing images of war and horror against the backdrop of Britten’s music. Sir Lawrence Olivier made a cameo appearance--his last role on film before his death--as an old soldier recalling memories of war. "Jarman has added visuals so intense," wrote Joseph McLellan of the Washington Post, "that this is likely to be the ultimate embodiment of the idea [of war] until someone develops a technique for recording and playing back physical sensations other than sight and sound: the impact of a shell exploding a few yards away; the feel of mud everywhere; the taste of blood coughed up from a blood wound."" ...

From "Benjamin Britten: Poetry, Politics, and Sound"

The Academy of American Poets, a project of the Academy of American Poets, also has brief essays on the poets and composers Emily Dickenson, Isaac Watts, Aaron Copland, John Cage, Ned Rorem, Steve Reich, William Carlos Williams, Igor Stravinsky, W.H. Auden, and J.D. McClatchy.

Scene from Derek Jarman's filmed version of Wilfred Owen's and Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, Great Britain, 1989. Photography by Richard Greatrex.
Photo credit: (c) Derek Jarman and Richard Greatrex via the Bergen Film Club, Norway.


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