A requiem inspired by Londoners' epitaphs is premiered
- 29 September 2012
- From the section London
A requiem inspired by the graves of Londoners has been premiered in north London.
Benjamin Till spent two years visiting 20 graveyards and cemeteries for the funeral composition, The London Requiem.
Actress Barbara Windsor, comedian Matt Lucas, playwright Sir Arnold Wesker, folk singer Maddie Prior and pop singer Tanita Tikaram have contributed.
It was performed at Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington.
'Wonderful, loving fun'
Mr Till who lives in Hampstead, north London, said it was a trip to his local burial ground Highgate Cemetery which gave him the idea to write a requiem.
He said he was struck by the graveyard's beauty and an inscription which read: "Be kind, for everyone we meet is fighting a hard battle."
An epitaph in Hoop Lane Cemetery in Golders Green, north-west London, inspired the second movement of the piece, the Kyrie.
It reads: "Ever in my heart, Ever in my mind, Ever by my side. Thanks for 53 wonderful loving fun years."
The words have been sung by Barbara Windsor.
She said: "When you get to my age - I'm 74 and I've experienced a hell of a lot - you don't get many firsts.
"Well, I've sung in a requiem. Even the word is daft for Barbara Windsor to be saying.
"I'm absolutely thrilled."
A gravestone in Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey for a 38-year-old woman simply named as 'Yasi' also lends its inscription to the Kyrie.
It reads: "Yasi. Devoted Mother, Daughter, Sister and Friend. And we laughed, and laughed and laughed."
Love after death
Mr Till said reading the inscriptions on at least 20,000 graves taught him how "levelling" the experience of death is and how "diverse" London is.
He cited the grave of lesbian poet and author Radclyffe Hall, born in 1880, which she shares with her partner Mabel Batten.
It bears an inscription by Hall's later lover, Una Troubridge: "And if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death."
"Her family would not let her be buried with Radclyffe and they buried her in Rome," said Mr Till.
Asked why he specifically made it a London requiem, he said: "I am a Londoner. I wasn't born a Londoner but I have lived here for 20 years and I feel very proud of this city and love its history."
The requiem is dedicated to George Hunter, the child of a friend of Mr Till's who was stillborn on 27 March, last year.
He said: "She [George's mother] kept saying 'people are going to forget he ever existed' and I didn't want that to happen."
Mr Till said the requiem is the third in a trilogy of compositions for London which began with Oranges and Lemons.
He said his career as a musical director and composer had led him to decide that his own epitaph will be: "Benjamin Till: The Musical".