I couldn't let the day pass without remembering two anniversaries that occur. The first is the 100th anniversary of the birth of the British composer, Benjamin Britten, he was born on the 22nd November 1913, appropriately the feast of St Cecilia for a future composer.
Britten is, now, very much part of the British establishment, although his personal life, and many of the themes of his music would have proved difficult for many in Britain during his lifetime. There are also some issues concerning his personal life that have not really been clarified and at this stage pushed under the carpet.
I used to be a great fan of Britten's work. I was particularly attracted to his choral work and to this day some of his pieces I find to be most beautiful and iconic: his Hymn to St Cecilia, based on a text of W. H. Auden; his Rejoice in the Lamb, based on some verses from Christopher Smart's interesting poetic work Jubilate Agno; his beautiful Ceremony of Carols which includes poems by St Robert Southwell. I am still very fond of his Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, and his greatest work, I think, is his majestic War Requiem. Since the days of my youthful musical career my interest has waned as other composers seemed more accomplished and profound in comparison. That said, the above works are worth listening to and you can access them online. By far one of my favourites is his poignant Hymn to the Virgin and I think we will listen to this as we might say a prayer for Britten's soul.
Today is also the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. Another figure surrounded in mystery in some ways. Growing up in an Irish home I became accustomed to what could only be described as a veneration of this man. I think every house in Ireland had a picture of Kennedy in the sitting room or kitchen. In my grandmother's house it was a bust, almost life-size. I was never really impressed with it, to be honest, and when the less savoury aspects of his life began to emerge, and his ultimate undermining of the faith , I was even less impressed. The bust was eventually replaced by an image of St Therese of the Child Jesus.
While I do not share the adulation many Irish people have for Kennedy, I see his death as a dreadful tragedy and historically important, one of those which revealed the real tension at the heart of the Cold War. I do not subscribe to the conspiracy theories, it was possible for Oswald to assassinate the poor man from the window of the Book Depository, and Oswald as a communist and supporter of the USSR did not need any other motivation than his ideology to want to kill the President. It was an awful event and my heart always went out to his wife who witnessed his violent killing first hand. Regardless of what we think of JFK, Jackie or the Kennedys, no one should have to endure or witness events such as these.
There is a interesting story which I have heard, though not confirmed, regarding Kennedy's last night. If any of you readers can confirm it I would be grateful. Apparently the night before the assassination, a priest came to hear Jackie's confession, and when Jack heard about it he asked the priest to hear his also. If this is true, it could only be providence and God's mercy. Given what we has been revealed about Kennedy's private life, it was comforting to hear that he went to confession before his tragic and untimely death. Again, as with Britten, as we remember Kennedy, let us offer a prayer for his soul.