Friday, April 8, 2011

Lenten Music: Requiem

Hardly anyone reads these posts on Lenten Music, but I have grown as a result of preparing and sharing them, so that's ok with me.  Today's post is yet another about the music of Lent, prepared and published in anticipation of the commemoration of the passion, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I hope those who actually read it will enjoy it.

We who are blessed to live in the shadow of the everlasting hills are very fortunate to have been offered, over the years, a steady stream of performances of various Requiems, whether it be Mozart’s, Verdi’s, Brahms’, Fauré’s, Mack Wilberg’s or others’.  We as a Mormon people are much more accustomed to this work of music, which is based on a Catholic funeral mass, than other works that also have their origins in Catholic liturgy (such as the Stabat Mater, discussed last week).

I have chosen to focus this week on the Requiem in part because in two days, here in Salt Lake City, another Requiem will be performed, this one by Salt Lake City composer and “family member”, David Zabriskie.  A command performance of David’s Requiem – A Celebration of Life will be held on Sunday, April 10th at the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City (569 South 1300 East) at 7:30 p.m., and I’ll return to a discussion of this Requiem below.

What Is a Requiem?

A Requiem was originally a term applied to a funeral mass and draws its name from the introit of the liturgy, which begins with the words, "Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine" – "Grant them eternal rest, O Lord".  Musical settings of the principal parts of the mass (called propers) also came to be called Requiems, and the term has subsequently been applied to other musical compositions associated with death and mourning, even when they lack religious or liturgical relevance.

The Requiem Mass is notable for the large number of musical compositions that it has inspired, including the settings of Mozart, Verdi and Fauré. Originally, such compositions were meant to be performed in liturgical service; but the dramatic character of the text began to appeal to composers to an extent that they made the requiem a genre of its own.  The compositions of composers such as Verdi are essentially concert pieces rather than liturgical works.

The texts set to music are the Introit, the Kyrie eleison, Gradual, Tract, the Sequence (or Dies Irae, attributable to attributed to Thomas of Celano, who lived in the 13th century), Offertory, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Communion, Pie Jesu, Libera Me, and In Paradisum

Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor

One of the most famous Requiems is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor which he started to compose shortly before his premature death.  It was commissioned in mid-1791 by the Austrian count Franz Von Walsegg, as a tribute to the passing of his young wife Anna.  Mozart began his final composition in Prague, suffering from an undetermined illness which would eventually take his life and prevent completion of the work.  

After his death, Mozart’s understudy Franz Xaver Süssmayr, at the behest of Mozart's wife, Constanze, completed the missing parts of the Requiem. (There is actually much mystery surrounding the completion of the Requiem, but this is beyond the scope of this little blog post.)  The Requiem Mass was first performed on January 2, 1793, in a private concert for the benefit of Mozart's grieving wife, Constanze.

The opening Introit of Mozart’s composition, which we know was completed by the composer before his death, is based on the following Latin text, which is in turn followed by a video clip of a performance by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra of the Introit.

Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Te decet hymnus Deus, in Sion,
et tibi reddetur votum in Ierusalem.
Exaudi orationem meam;
ad te omnis caro veniet.
Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Grant them eternal rest, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
A hymn becomes you, O God, in Zion,
and to you shall a vow be repaid in Jerusalem.
Hear my prayer;
to you shall all flesh come.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.

One of the more famous portions of Mozart’s Requiem, which he had partially completed before his death, is the Dies Irae, based on the medieval poem depicting the Last Judgment.  Below is another video clip featuring the opening stanzas of this movement:

Dies iræ! dies illa
Solvet sæclum in favilla:
Teste David cum Sibylla!

Quantus tremor est futurus,
Quando iudex est venturus,
Cuncta stricte discussurus!
Day of wrath! O day of mourning!
See fulfilled the prophets' warning,
Heaven and earth in ashes burning!

Oh, what fear man's bosom rendeth,
when from heaven the Judge descendeth,
on whose sentence all dependeth.

Another very famous passage of the Requiem, the Lacrimosa, is based on the concluding stanzas of the Dies Irae:

Lacrimosa dies illa,
qua resurget ex favilla
judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus,
pie Jesu Domine,
dona eis requiem. Amen.
That day of tears and mourning,
when from the ashes shall arise,
all humanity to be judged.
Spare us by your mercy, Lord,
gentle Lord Jesus,
grant them eternal rest. Amen.

Verdi’s Messa da Requiem

Another well-known Requiem is that composed by Giuseppe Verdi, first performed in Milan in 1874 in memory of Alessandro Manzoni, an Italian poet and novelist much admired by Verdi.

One famous passage of this composition is the Libera me, which was sung at the funeral of Princess Diana by Lynne Dawson to a live audience (via television) estimated to number two billion people.  I recall watching the funeral and being moved by the intense sadness conveyed by this piece.  The performance, featured in the video clip below, was also part of the soundtrack of The Queen.

Libera me, Domine, de morte æterna,
        in die illa tremenda:
Quando cæli movendi sunt et terra.
Dum veneris iudicare sæculum per ignem.
Tremens factus sum ego, et timeo,
     dum discussio venerit, atque ventura ira.
Quando cæli movendi sunt et terra.
Dies illa, dies iræ, calamitatis et miseriæ,
         dies magna et amara valde.
Dum veneris iudicare sæculum per ignem.
Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine:
        et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Deliver me, O Lord, from death eternal on that fearful day,
when the heavens and the earth shall be moved,
when thou shalt come to judge the world by fire.
I am made to tremble, and I fear, till the judgment be upon us, and the coming wrath,
when the heavens and the earth shall be moved.
That day, day of wrath, calamity, and misery, day of great and exceeding bitterness,
when thou shalt come to judge the world by fire.
Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord: and let light perpetual shine upon them.

Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem

Gabriel Urbain Fauré (1845 - 1924) was a French composer, organist, pianist and teacher. He was one of the foremost French composers of his generation, and his musical style influenced many 20th century composers.  His Requiem was first performed in 1888.  It was not composed to the memory of a specific person but, in Fauré's words, "for the pleasure of it." It has been described as "a lullaby of death" because of its predominantly gentle tone.   

Fauré’s Requiem will be performed by the Temple Square Chorale and the Orchestra at Temple Square in the Tabernacle on Temple Square at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 22, and Saturday, April 23, 2011.  In anticipation of this performance, Ryan Murphy, chorale director, commented that “the Faure Requiem is a beautiful meditation on light and darkness … Unlike other requiem settings, Faure’s work is imbued with an overwhelming ethos of peace, comfort, and faith in God’s mercy and love. It is the ideal contemplation for Easter as we celebrate the triumph of life over death.”

One of the most famous passages of Fauré’s composition is the Pie Jesu, performed in the following video clip, along with the Agnus Dei, by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.

Pie Jesu

Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem.
Dona eis requiem sempiternam.
Merciful Lord Jesus, grant them rest;
grant them eternal rest.

Agnus Dei

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem,
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem,
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem sempiternam.
Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, grant them rest,
Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, grant them rest,
Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, grant them eternal rest.

David Zabriskie’s Requiem – A Celebration of Life

As mentioned above, on Sunday, April 10th, there will be a command performance of Salt Lake City composer David Zabriskie’s Requiem – A Celebration of Life at the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City (569 South 1300 East) at 7:30 p.m.  Zabriskie’s Requiem was commissioned by the Unitarian Church and premiered on Sunday, February 6th, earlier this year. 

In addition to seven movements that follow the Latin Requiem text (Requiem Aeternam, Dies Irae, Sanctus, Pie Jesu, Agnus Dei, Lux Aeterna and In Paradisum), David has included two song texts by Kathleen Cahill (a playwright located in Salt Lake City) and closes with a setting of “There Will Be Rest”, a poem by early 20th century American poet Sara Teasdale.


  1. Really? your music posts are always very good. I always appreciate the time you put into your selections as well as your own personal interpretation. More people need to be exposed to this beautiful music. Keep doing them.

  2. Thanks, Joe. I am glad to hear that you are enjoying these posts, and I appreciate the vote of support. :)

  3. Instructive . . . and beautiful! Thanks.

  4. Thanks for posting these lovely pieces, IP. I love the Requiem form. They are magnificent and spiritual reflections of our core emotions. I sing in the Eugene Symphony Chorus and we are performing the Mozart Requiem in the next season--I can hardly wait!