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Dona Nobis Pacem

March 3 at 3:00, Benson Great Hall, Bethel University


Vaughan Williams at his most dramatic! Walt Whitman at his most engaging!


The devastation of war, followed by the sanctity of peace; it is an old theme, and one that many veterans of war are eager to promote. Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) was an English composer who was at the forefront of the 20th century “Renaissance of English music.”


During World War I, Vaughan Williams volunteered as an ambulance driver in France and Greece. The wounds of war he witnessed led him to write the cantata, Dona Nobis Pacem, which was also an expression of his concern about what seemed to be the stirrings of a second major war with fascism rising in Italy and Germany, and Spain’s civil war.


Although Vaughan Williams described himself as an atheist and later an agnostic, he used religious texts for this work. In addition, he integrated an anti-war speech by politician John Bright, and poetry by Walt Whitman, who had served as a nurse in the Civil War, and wrote about his experiences. It’s an amazing combination of pieces of text, and especially Walt Whitman’s are extraordinarily difficult to take in because of the content.

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