Requiescant in pace: four requiems for the month of November

Since Mozart wrote his unfinished Requiem Mass in 1791, the trend of writing multi-movement works for the dead has only increased in popularity among composers. Though Mozart wrote his final opus for use in the Mass, over time, as the Church began to discourage the use of things theatrical and operatic in the liturgy and composers began to compose more for the concert hall than the sanctuary, “requiem” lost its liturgical meaning and took on the meaning it has today – any musical work about death. I would like to give you four requiems for your listening that have all retained a closeness to this genre’s origins in the Roman liturgy.

Requiem Mass in D minor by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Many composers had written Masses for the dead before Mozart, but Mozart’s has managed to retain its place in pedestrian knowledge most firmly, even more so than more recent requiems. Commissioned by Count Franz von Walsegg to commemorate the anniversary of his wife’s death, it was left unfinished by Mozart at his death in 1791. In 1792 it was completed by Franz Xavier Sussmayr and presented to the count.
Though not of the same gestalt as more stereotypical Catholic liturgical music (Arvo Part, Palestrina, Bruckner), this piece is nonetheless a stirring and sobering work of art. (I would compare it to having a skull on your desk with the words, “Memento Homo” stamped on its forehead.) It blends breathtaking operatic drama with the musical substance of Mozart’s later period, in which he cranks up the harmonic and contrapuntal sophistication considerably. Opera in liturgy. What do you think?

     Requiem in D minor by Gabriel Faure
Faure, a composition professor and church organist in Paris, composed his requiem between 1897 and 1890 to be used at Mass. By 1900 he had increased the orchestral forces so that it could be more effective in the concert hall as well.
If the Mozart is like having a skull on your desk, the Faure’s requiem is like this:

angel's taking soul to heaven

Faure spoke thus about his requiem: “It has been said that my Requiem does not express the fear of death, and someone has called it a lullaby of death. But it is thus that I see death: as a happy deliverance, an aspiration towards happiness above, rather than as a painful experience…[P]erhaps I have also instinctively sought to escape from what is thought right and proper, after all the years of accompanying burial services on the organ! I know it all by heart. I wanted to write something different.” That he did. Faure takes much liberty with the liturgical text, replacing “may the souls of all the faithful departed” to “may all the souls of the departed,” along with many other substantial changes of this sort. Nonetheless, this piece is profoundly beautiful and prayerful. If you aren’t scared into repentance by Mozart, you’ll be seduced into it by Faure.

     Requiem by Maurice Durufle
Durufle’s Requiem was commissioned in 1947 by a French publishing house, and it was dedicated to the composer’s father.
Durufle mimics Faure’s requiem in many instances (overall calm feel, opening figure of Libera Me, Pie Jesu), yet on the whole this Requiem, while firmly set in the 20th century, draws upon Gregorian chant for it’s melodic material, frequently quoting long passages. Mixing chant’s free rhythm with propelling accompaniment and lush harmonies, this Requiem is nothing less than riveting. Interestingly enough, Durufle (also a church organist) is much more faithful to the original text than his predecessor, Faure. Perhaps the New Liturgical Movement had made an impact.
Missa pro defunctis
Now, it wouldn’t be right to to give a list of requiems and leave out the best of all. Go and listen to the original chant Mass. This is a great recording put out by St. Gregory’s (Now Gregory the Great) Academy. Although you can find fine recordings of the Mozart, Faure and Durufle on Spotify or YouTube, there’s really nothing out there as satisfactory as the Highlander Schola’s rendition (plus, all proceeds go to the new school.)

Thank you for reading; pray for your dead;do some listening!

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