In the modern age, dying and grief have been rendered largely private experiences, and the music which one may turn to in order to help us make sense of our loss has increasingly become a correspondingly personal choice. Yet death, particularly in the time of war, very often happens in a public setting, and across many cultures for many centuries the musical commemoration of death has been a public ritual, in which the support of community is a key aspect of the healing process.
It is exactly this tension between private grief and public ritual which Benjamin Britten explores so movingly in his remarkable War Requiem.
Britten was at the height of his powers when he was commissioned to write the requiem for the consecration of Coventry Cathedral, destroyed by German bombs in 1940.
A committed pacifist, Britten...