Children’s Crusade, a setting of Bertold Brecht for children’s voices, two pianos, electric organ, and percussion, is one of Benjamin Britten’s most austere and unsettling pieces. The 19-minute work takes the form of a ballad telling the story of a group of children trying to flee the ‘wilderness of night’ that was World War II Poland, searching for peace but ultimately becoming lost without trace in the snow. 
Composed for the 50th anniversary of the Save the Children Fund, Children’s Crusade was completed in January 1969, immediately before two other works preoccupied with war: Who are these Children? and Owen Wingrave. Britten himself referred to this hard-hitting work as a ‘very grisly piece’, and its icy, claustrophobic and violent music offers almost no hope. Originally in English, it also exists in a German translation by Hans Keller.