“Hundreds of music lovers ... who were lucky enough to hear it won’t soon forget the thrilling, at times moving, concert.”
Channing Gray
The Providence Journal

5 March 2012
(Britten War Requiem)








Benjamin Britten

Cantata Misericordium (1963)

Benjamin Britten composed the Cantata Misercordium for a performance in Geneva, Switzerland, celebrating the centennial of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Patrick Wilkinson’s Latin text tells the story of the Good Samaritan from the Gospel of Luke. The score calls for tenor and baritone solos, mixed chorus and string orchestra, with piano, harp, timpani, and a string quartet.

Britten reacted to the catastrophes of World War II and the ensuing years of unrest and turbulence throughout Europe with potent compositions projecting his pacifist ideals. Cantata Misericordium was premièred only nine months after his epic War Requiem and is often seen as a microcosmic appendix or sequel. Most notably, Britten used the same male singers for whom had he written the War Requiem and employed a small chamber group within the larger ensemble, in this case a string quartet from within the string orchestra, portraying the passage of time.

The Good Samaritan parable aptly reflects the mission and purpose of the Red Cross, poignantly relevant today in the aftermath of the Haitian disaster and other crises worldwide. A lone traveler (the baritone) is beaten, robbed, and stripped by bandits and left to die. Shunned by a priest and a Levite, he is rescued by a reviled Samaritan (the tenor). The chorus comments on the action, declaring moral imperatives and vehement condemnations of the inhumane passers-by and rejoicing in the Samaritan’s compassion. Britten’s clever writing for small forces includes a vivid instrumental portrayal of the violent assault and the Samaritan’s frantic knocking on the innkeeper’s door. In similar fashion to the War Requiem, the work concludes with a hypnotic lullaby for tenor as the soloists and chorus proclaim: “Who is your neighbor? Now you know. Go, and do likewise.”

— Andrew Clark



The Text
Prepared by Patrick Wilkinson (performed in Latin)

Chorus
Beati misericordes.
Beati qui dolore corporis afflictis succurrunt.
Audite vocem Romani:

Tenor
“Deus est mortali iuvare mortalem.”

Chorus
Audite vocem Iudaei:

Barytonus
“Proximum tuum, sicut te ipsum, ama.”

Tenor et Barytonus
At proximus meus quis est?

Chorus
Iesu parabola iam nobis fiat fabula.

Chorus
Blessed are the merciful.
Blessed are those who succour the afflicted in body.
Hear the voice of a Roman:

Tenor
“For man to love man is God.”

Chorus
Hear the voice of a Jew:

Baritone
“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Tenor and Baritone
But who is my neighbour?

Chorus
Let us enact now a parable of Jesus.

Chorus
En Viator qui descendit ab Ierusalem in Iericho.

Chorus
Behold a traveller going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.

Viator (Barytonus)
Ah quam longa est haec via, quam per deserta loca. Terret me solitudo, terret omnis rupes, omne arbustum. Insidias timeo. Heus, asine, propera, propera.

Traveller (Baritone)
Ah how long this way is, how desolate the country! I am afraid of the solitude, of every rock, of every shrub. I fear an ambush. Hey, donkey, hurry, hurry.

Chorus
Cave, Viator, cave! Latent istis in umbris latrones. Iam prodeunt, iam circumstant. Cave, Viator, cave!

Chorus
Beware, traveller, beware! Robbers are lurking in those shadows. Now they are coming forward, now they are surrounding you. Beware, traveller, beware!

Viator
Qui estis homines? Cur me sic intuemini? Atat! Plaga! Atatae! Pugnis, fustibus vapulo. Iam spolior, nudor. Quo fugit asinus? Eheu relinquor humi prostratus, semivivus, solus, inops.

Chorus
Ubi nunc latrones isti? Quam cito ex oculis elapsi sunt. Solitudo ubique, solitudo et silentium. Quis huic succurret in tanta vastitate?

Traveller
What men are you? Why do you look at me like that? Oh, a blow! Oh! Oh! Fists and cudgels! Robbed and stripped! Where has my donkey gone? Alas, I am left prostrate on the ground, half dead, alone, helpless.

Chorus
Where have those robbers gone? How quickly they have vanished. Solitude everywhere, solitude and silence. Who will help this man in such a wilderness?


Orchestra: The Passage of Time


Chorus
Bono nunc animo es, Viator.Nam tibi appropinquat iter faciens qui habitu est sacerdos. Is certe sublevabit. Compella eum.

Viator
Subveni, ah subveni: ne patere me mori.

Chorus
Dure sacerdos, quid oculos avertis? Quid procul praeteris? Ut praeterit, ut abit ex oculis homo sacerrimus.

Chorus
Be of good cheer, traveller: there is someone approaching along the road who by his dress is a priest. Surely he will rescue you. Hail him.

Traveller
Help, oh help me: do not let me die.

Chorus
Hard-hearted priest, why do you look away, why do you pass by on the other side? See, he is passing by, he is vanishing from sight, the accursed holy man!


Orchestra: The Passage of Time


Chorus
En alter in conspectum venit. Tolle rursus, abiecte, animos. Qui accedit est Levita. Is certe sublevabit.

Viator
Fer opem, fer opem atrociter mihi vulnerato.

Chorus
O ferrea hominum corda! Hic quoque conspexit iacentem, praeteriit, acceleravit gradum. Timetne cadaveris ne tactu polluatur? I nunc, sacrosancte Levita, cordis tui praescriptiones inhumanas observa.

Chorus
Look, another is coming in sight. Raise your spirits, outcast, again. The man who is coming is a Levite. He surely will rescue you.

Traveller
Give me aid, give me aid: I am terribly wounded.

Chorus
Oh the hard hearts of men! This one too saw him lying there, passed by and hastened his pace. Is he afraid of being polluted by touching a corpse? Go on, sacrosanct Levite, observe the inhuman prescriptions of your heart.


Orchestra: The Passage of Time


Chorus
Ecce, tertius apparet — sedlanguescit spes auxilii: nam propior videtur essecontemptus Samaritanus. Quid interest Samaritani Iudaeinegotia suscipere molesta?

Chorus
See now, a third is appearing — but hope of relief is fading: for from near he is seen to be only a despised Samaritan. What interest has a Samaritan in taking up the troublesome affairs of a Jew?

Viator
Miserere mei, hospes, afflicti.

Samaritanus (Tenor)
Ah, di boni! Quid audio? Quid ante pedes iam video? Iacet hic nescioquis immania passus. Age, primum haec vulnera adligem. Ubi mihi vinum? Ubi oleum? Sursum, iam sursum imponam te in tergum iumenti mei.

Traveller
Pity me, stranger, pity me: I am suffering.

Samaritan (Tenor)
Ah, good gods! What do I hear? What do I see before my feet? Here lies someone who has been horribly treated. Come, first let me bind up these wounds. Where is my wine, my oil? Up, now I will lift you up on to the back of my beast.

Chorus
Vincit, ecce, vincit tandem misericordia. Hic pedes ipse comitatur eum in deversorium.

Samaritanus
Ohe, caupo, siquid audis: aperiportam. Viator em adfero a latronibus spoliatum. Aperi, quaeso ... Benigne. Para nobis cenam, caupo, para cubiculum, amabo. Mihi cras abeundum erit. Cura hunc dum convalescat. Dabo tibi duos denarios.

Chorus
Triumph! Mercy is triumphing at last. This man is accompanying him to an inn himself on foot.

Samaritan
Ho, innkeeper, do you hear? Open the door. I have with me a traveller who has been stripped by robbers. Open, please ... Thank you. Prepare us supper, innkeeper, and a room, please. Tomorrow I shall have to go on. Look after this man till he gets better. I will give you two denarii.

Viator
Iam rursus revivesco. Iam spes in animum redit. Optime hospitum, quis es? Unde es gentium? Salvus quomodo tibi gratias referam dignas?

Traveller
I am coming back to life again. Hope is reviving in me. Best of strangers, who are you? From what people do you come? I am saved, and how can I thank you worthily?

Samaritanus
Quis sim, unde sim gentium, parce quaerere. Dormi nunc, amice, dormi: iniuriarum obliviscere.

Samaritan
Who I am, and what my people, ask no more. Sleep now, my friend, sleep: forget your injuries.

Chorus
Mitis huius adiutoris qui servavit saucium Proximumque sibi duxit hospitem incognitum, O si similes existant ubicumque gentium! Morbus gliscit, Mars incedit, fames late superat; Sed mortales, alter quando alterum sic sublevat, e dolore procreata caritas consociat.

Chorus
O that men like this gentle helper, who saved a wounded man and treated as his neighbour an unknown stranger, may be found all over the world. Disease is spreading, war is stalking, famine reigns far and wide. But when one mortal relieves another like this, charity springing from pain unites them.

Tenor et Barytonus
Quis sit proximus tuus iam scis.

Chorus
Vade et tu fac similiter.

Tenor and Baritone
Who your neighbour is, now you know.

Chorus
Go and do likewise.