Children's Crusade (Kinderkreuzzug) - music, words and images that still have meaning today.

Music by Benjamin Britten, words by Bertolt Brecht and illustrations by Sidney Nolan

The Children's Crusade (Op. 82), A Ballad for children's voices and orchestra, was written for the members of Wandsworth School Boys' Choir to perform on the 50th Anniversary of 'The Save the Children Fund' at St Paul's Cathedral, London, on the 19th May 1969 and dedicated to the German composer Hans Werner Henze.

The text by Bertolt Brecht and chosen by Britten, tells the story of Polish children orphaned at the start of the Second World War. There is an echo of the Children's Crusade of the Middle Ages when the very poorest of society try to escape the misery of their everyday lives. In Brecht's poem the children set off with hope and collect a dog along the way. The story is a rather grim one. The fifty-five children all die and the starving dog is found with a label around its neck:-

 

'Saying this: PLEASE COME AND HELP US!

WHERE WE ARE, WE CANNOT SAY.

WE'RE THE FIVE-AND-FIFTY.

THE DOG KNOWS THE WAY.

 

The writing was in a childish hand.

Peasants had read it over.

Since then more than a year has gone by.

The dog has starved: he didn't recover.'

 

The orchestration of the piece includes a large ensemble of percussion instruments to be played by the children. It isn't one of Britten's most lyrical pieces and is very demanding of both performers and audience as it delivers its pacifist message in a brutalist manner. The bleak narrative makes this seem like the world is almost without hope.

Sidney Nolan (1917 - 1928) was one of Australia's foremost artists of the twentieth century - probably best known for his paintings of legends from Australia's history including Ned Kelly. Sidney Nolan's highly stylised depiction of Ned Kelly's armour is an icon of Australian art. Whilst travelling in England, Nolan attended the Aldeburgh Festival and was influenced by the work of Benjamin Britten. Nolan produced a series of atmospheric paintings based on The Children's Crusade.

The copy we have is a facsimile edition of Benjamin Britten's hand-written score with twelve full-page colour illustrations from Sidney Nolan's series based on the Children's Crusade. It's a beautifully produced book, limited to 300 copies (this being 250), to celebrate the composer's sixtieth birthday and published by Faber Music, London, 1973. The book was printed at the Curwen Press and was bound in half brown Morocco by Henry Brooks (Bookbinders) Limited and Zaehnsdorf (Binders) Limited. The book has top edge gilt decoration with gilt titles to front and spine. It's a large format book approximately 390mm x 290mm and comes with its original slipcase. The book is signed by both Benjamin Britten and Sidney Nolan.

 

 

 

  • Date posted:
    22/09/2016
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