with Sheila Kibbe, piano.
With the violinist Yehudi Menuhin in July 1945, Britten played at the ruins of the Belsen concentration camp, liberated just three months previous, and visited the hospital there. He returned to England and fell ill, having experienced a psychological, ethical and musical disruption. In August 1945 he wrote these searing settings of Donne’s sonnets, which speak to the crushing abasement of man’s sinful failure before God.
Oh my black Soule! now thou art summoned
By sicknesse, deaths herald, and champion;
Thou art like a pilgrim, which abroad hath done
Treason, and durst not turne to whence hee is fled,
Or like a thief, which till deaths doome be read,
Wisheth himselfe delivered from prison;
But damn’d and hal’d to execution,
Wisheth that still he might be imprisoned;
Yet grace, if thou repent, thou canst not lacke;
But who shall give thee that grace to beginne?
Oh make thy selfe with holy mourning blacke,
And red with blushing, as thou art with sinne;
Or wash thee in Christs blood, which hath this might
That being red, it dyes red soules to white.
John Donne (1572-1631)