A Child of our Time

Michael Tippett, a prominent British composer known for his profound exploration of social and personal issues, was deeply affected by the horrific events of Kristallnacht in 1938. This Nazi-orchestrated pogrom, characterised by the violent targeting of Jewish people and property throughout Germany, ignited a firestorm of outrage within Tippett, compelling him to channel his emotions into a powerful musical response.

The result was A Child of Our Time, a large-scale oratorio composed between 1939 and 1941. As well as composing the music, Tippett also wrote the libretto, weaving a narrative that transcended the specific tragedy of Kristallnacht to address the broader issue of individual fate under the crushing weight of social oppression.

At the heart of the oratorio is the "Child of Our Time", a symbolic figure representing the countless individuals caught in the crosshairs of societal prejudice and injustice. The work explores the struggles and hardships faced by this figure, their search for identity and belonging in a world that seems determined to exclude them.

Tippett, a champion of social justice and equality, sought to amplify the voices of the marginalised through his music. He incorporated several well-known Negro Spirituals into the oratorio, including the iconic "Go Down, Moses" and "Steal Away". Born out of the experiences of African Americans facing oppression in the United States, these spirituals resonated deeply with Tippett's own beliefs and served to connect the struggles of different communities across geographical and cultural boundaries.

A Child of Our Time was premiered on March 19, 1944 by the London Civil Defense and Morley College Choirs with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Walter Goehr, at the Royal Adelphi Theatre in London. It served as a poignant reminder of the human cost of hatred and prejudice, and offered a message of hope and resilience in the face of overwhelming adversity. It continues to resonate with audiences today, a testament to the enduring power of music to confront social injustice.