Guest Blog | Henry Leck

Britten War Requiem:  a monument in our time

This season marks the one hundredth anniversary of Benjamin Britten’s birth. Consequently, this has been a real Britten year for the Indianapolis Children’s Choir.  In the fall, we performed the “Missa Brevis in D” and at holiday time, “Ceremony of Carols.”  And now, this spring the “War Requiem.”  Without a doubt, this work is one of the masterpieces of the 20th century, if not of all time.  It is a huge undertaking with two orchestras, soloists, mixed choir and boy’s (children’s) choir.

I have said many times.  “I truly believe no one understood the child’s voice as well as Britten.”  Whenever he writes for the child’s voice, the music seems so complex and difficult.  But when learning it, the music makes incredible sense.  In so many of his works, such as “St. Nicholas” and “The Children’s Crusade,” the music of the main forces will come to a resting point.  Then the children’s music is added freely, overlapping as the primary music continues.  The two parts flow freely and independently of one another.  But the result is a somewhat spontaneous complexity of sound.

Even though the War Requiem is not liturgical it is immensely moving spiritually.  The poetry of Wilfred Owen intertwined with the Requiem text causes one to reflect upon the waste and loss of war.  Britten was a registered pacifist and his beliefs about the futile results of war are sobering and poignant.  In an age when American children have never known a time when our government was not in conflict, the consideration of non-violence amongst nations could not be more appropriate.

It is an honor and privilege to be involved with the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir and Orchestra in this enormous project.


Henry Leck

Founder and Artistic Director
Indianapolis Children’s Choir