Icestorm, 2001, colour photograph, by Wolfgang Tillmans

Wolfgang Tillmans is working on a World War II Requiem

The photo artist has teamed up with ENO to stage a production of a Benjamin Britten choral masterpiece

In 1961, the British composer Benjamin Britten was commissioned to compose a piece for the consecration of Coventry Cathedral, the modernist building that replaced an earlier Gothic place of worship, destroyed during World War II.

Britten - a pacifist - chose to commemorate both the earlier bombing and the subsequent building with The War Memorial, a choral piece that brought together elements of the Latin Mass for the dead interspersed with words written by the great First World War poet Wilfred Owen.

War Requiem began as a collaborative work. The work’s premier, at the Cathedral in May 1962, continued this theme of war and peace, with German and English soloists performing the requiem’s principal parts.


Wolfgang Tillmans Self-portrait (Christian) for Phaidon book, 2013, colour photograph
Wolfgang Tillmans Self-portrait (Christian) for Phaidon book, 2013, colour photograph

In that same spirit of Anglo-German cooperation, the English National Opera has announced plans to revive Britten’s requiem later this year, in a production designed by the artist and photographer, Wolfgang Tillmans.

ENO’s 2018 production of Britten’s work – which will run from November 16 to December 7 - is being staged to commemorate the centenary of the World War I Armistice. Tillmans will work in conjunction with the ENO's artistic director Daniel Kramer, on the show. 

“Having a German artist’s point of view focused the early discussion around the themes of nationalism,” Kramer told The Standard. “The German relationship with the First and Second World Wars is very different to the American or the British or the French.”

Conversely, Tillmans is drawing his inspiration not from either conflict, nor from Britten or Owens’ work, but from the British cathedral itself, which, he says, he admires for its “modernist spirit” and “sense of reconciliation”.


Wolfgang Tillmans
Wolfgang Tillmans

For more on Tillmans' images, politics and artistic sensibilities, order a copy of this book; for more on the pioneering spirit of 20th century architecture get Modern Architecture Since 1900.