The Requiem by Camille Saint-Saëns

May 22 in 1878 in the Eglise Saint Sulpice in Paris/France. That was the date when Saint-Saëns’ masterpiece was performed for the first time. He dedicated this work to his benefactor Albert Libon. This event was preceded by some sad events in the composer’s private life. Both his sons had died within six weeks in the same year, one fell out of a window and the other died of an illness six weeks later. He blamed his wife for the death of his sons and they got seperated. It is said that these tragic events influenced the music in the requiem heavily and is the reason why the requiem ends with the Agnus Dei movement. Saint-Saëns did not compose a movement In Paradisum which is common in other requiems of French composers such as Fauré or Duruflé, which would have been like a “good ending”. This requiem finishes sad and unresolved. The requiem starts with a very powerful and moving movement, the Kyrie. The music in this movement really mirrors the words: Lord have mercy on us. The first words sung in this movements are “Requiem aeternam” – eternal rest – which is introduced by the soloists first and then accompanied by the choir. This music really gives me goose pimples but a kind of reflective joy at the same time.

This movement is followed by the Dies Irae, the “Wrath of God”. This again is powerful and fast moving and the choir is supported by trumpets and an organ, which give the movement a real feeling of “wrath”.

This movement is followed by a quieter part, the Rex Tremendae. It is more reflective but yet does not give the listener time to rest the mind.

The next movement Saint Saëns named Oro Supplex but it is equivalent to the Lacrymosa movement of other requiems. It has more of a lamenting style in line with the words that it is a movement about lamenting and resentment.

The next movement Hostias is very calming and this mood is supported by a calm choir and a harp.

The Sanctus movement is very serene and uplifting followed by the reflective Benedictus. Both movements are incredibly short but have beautiful melodies which really help the listener transcend to a different world. The listener thinks s/he is transformed to another world bringing piece but then …. the Agnus Dei. This movement starts with the same melodie as the first movement and has a very melancholic undertone. The Requiem finishes with this powerful movement and leaves a sadness behind in the listener. This sadness very much reflects what Saint-Saëns must have gone through after the death of his children. The Lamb of God – He who carried the sin of the world. The end of the piece is almost eerie but I think that it carries an innate beauty and the composer could not have found a better way to catch his feelings with music. The requiem ends with the word Amen and this marks the end of the prayer.

This piece is wonderful to reflect on where and who we are living on this planet. If you want to buy the CD, click on the picture

below:

Videos reproduced from YouTube /LIRIKXIII, mariocaccioppoli, ComposerJMV and choralconductor1

Mozart’s Requiem

This week I continue my music series on City Connect, reporting on famous classical compositions. This time I will discuss Mozart’s Requiem, one of the most famous classical compositions of all times, which also happens to be my personal favourite of all music.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in 1756 in the city of Salzburg which was part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. He was a child progeny and finished his first compositions at a very young age. After a life as a successful and renowned musician in the entirety of Europe, he died in 1791 at the young age of only 35. He started work on his Requiem in 1790 and he never finished it. This Requiem is one of the most enigmatic pieces of music that has ever been composed, mostly because of the myths and controversies surrounding it, especially around how much of the piece was completed by Wolfgang before his death.

The piece was finished by one of Mozart’s former students Franz Xaver Süssmayr. Until today it is still being disputed how much Mozart actually composed of the music. Other composers, such as Joseph von Eybler, have been suggested to having been involved. Furthermore, it is unclear if Mozart left some sketches or ideas about the movements after the Lacrimosa, which are believed to having been composed almost entirely by Süssmayr.

This piece of music is stunning and up to today one of the most played classical music pieces of all times.

The Requiem is divided into 14 parts:

1. Introitus Requiem

The opening movement of the requiem has a very slow crescendo building up to the choir singing Requiem, requiem aeternam, dona eis – Grant them eternal rest. The first notes of this music put me into a trance and into a complete bubble until the performance is finished. Mozart then continues the fugue style introduced by the choir and introduces the solo singers one after another: soprano, alto, tenor and bass.

2.Kyrie

Kyrie eleison! Lord have mercy upon us. This powerful movement starts with the choir in forte. The prayer is sung over and over and introduced by the male voices and then echoed by the female voices of the choir. Afterwards the roles are reversed, giving the entire movement a hectic character creating a feeling of awe in the listener. It ends in a heavy forte bridging over to the next movement.

3. Dies Irae

Dies Irae – The Day of Wrath. Again, the choir introduces the movement in a powerful forte. The string instruments accompany the music in a frantic style and one cannot but feel the words echo in the bones.

4. Tuba Mirum

A trumpet spreading a wondrous sound. Mozart really took the words literally and composed a slow movement carried by a single trumpet at the beginning of the movement until it builds up more powerfully.

5. Rex Tremendae

King of awful majesty. This movement is introduced by the choir and is a slower but heavy movement really captivating the listener and creating a sense of wondrous awe.

6. Recordare

Remember blessed Jesus. This movement is slow and delicate, building up expectations for the next movement. It is dominated by the solo singers.

7. Confutatis Maledictis

When the accursed have been confounded. This movement makes one really feel about the sinners that are accused here.

8. Lacrimosa

The Lacrimosa is the most famous of all the movements, in particular as it is thought to be the last music Mozart ever composed. Probably only the first few chords were composed my the maestro himself and the movement was finished by Süssmayr. It is my personal favourite and fully captivates me every single time I listen to it.

9. Domine Jesu

This movement has a more frantic style and almost seems simpler than the previous movements. The style is definitely different which may hint towards Süssmayr’s influence?

10. Hostias

We offer to you … This movement is slower again and makes the listener reflect. It has a powerful crescendo that “makes you sit firmly in your seats”

11. Sanctus

Holy, holy, holy! The choir introduces the movements with these words. It is a intense movement celebrating the holiness of god. The Hosanna in Excelsis is composed in the fugue style that hints towards Mozart’s education.

12. Benedictus

Blessed is the who cometh in the name of the Lord. The alto and soprano introduce this movement and it is slowly building up.

13. Agnus Dei

This movement is very powerful and is more reminiscent of the typical style of Mozart. Many believe that the maestro himself had composed part of this movement, as it is so typical for him.

14. Lux Aeterna

The Requiem finishes with the “eternal light”. It is almost calming to the listener and sounds like a more resolved version of the first movement. This bridges the Requiem well and gives an impression of all-roundedness and finishes the circle of Life and Death. The eternal light! Listen and be amazed!

Here some selected recordings on Youtube:

CM Giulini, 1979 – Philharmonia Orchestra

Vienna State Orchestra

 

You can also order a fantastic recording by the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester on Amazon UK:

 

Image reproduced from http://grumel.nicolas.free.fr
Video reproduced from YouTube / davidhertzberg and ComposerJMA

Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem Op.45

This week I am continuing our music series on another very famous piece of romantic classical music: The Requiem of the German composer Johannes Brahms.

The requiem carries the obscure title “Ein Deutsches Requiem” (A German Requiem) and the lyrics are in German as opposed to Latin used in most other requiems. The piece is sacral but non-liturgical, it is a large-scale orchestral work with a chorus and a soprano and baritone soloist and it was composed between 1865 and 1868.

It is uncertain what prompted Brahms to write this piece, but the death of his mother in 1865 may have played a major role in his decision-making. The first three movements of the requiem were premiered before the entire work was finished and very poorly received due to a misunderstanding of how to play the score. Several performances of some of the movements followed suit and were better received. However, when the entire work was premiered with all the finished 7 movements in Leipzig by the Gewandhaus Orchestra in 1869, the audience were ecstatic.

Brahms assembled the text of the requiem himself and did not lean on the traditional Latin texts usually used for requiems. This gives a very personal and unique touch to the composition. The name was intended to give a human touch to the piece. Brahms actually contemplated to call the piece “En menschliches Requiem” (A human requiem). Whereas traditional requiems at the time concentrated on the dead, A German Requiem focusses on the living.

The composition is a very rounded piece, with both the first and last movement starting in the same fashion with the words “Blessed are those …”. The whole work has a symmetry around movement 4. Thus, to really catch the spirit, the requiem has to be listened to as a whole; partly explaining why it was received badly when only a few movements were performed.

The music always awakens an awe inside me and is perfect for reflection and meditation. Surely, understanding the German lyrics help, but the music is so rich and intense, that the feelings it creates are not dependent on the text.

Movement 1: Selig sind die da Leid tragen (Blessed are they that carry suffering)

The first movement starts very quietly and serene. It slowly builds up and draws the listener into a reflective mood. It really sets the scene for the following movements.

Movement 2: Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras (For all flesh it is as grass)

This movement is very famous. It starts slow and has some powerful crescendi building up throughout the almost 15 minutes in length. It is a sad movement and really moving. I first discovered it in a Christmas Album several years ago and had to listen to it for several days non-stop …

Movement 3: Herr, lehre doch mich (Lord teach me)

The baritone introduces these powerful words. “Lord teach me, that there is an end with me and that my life has a goal.” These are perfect words to reflect and meditate for we all look for a goal in our lives …

Movement 4: Wie lieblich sich deine Wohnungen (How lovely are thy dwellings)

“How lovely are thy dwellings in Zebaoth.” This movement is calmer then the three preceding movements and give the listener some time to relax. It is has a very lyrical flavour …

Movement 5: Ihr habt nun traurigkeit (You have now sadness)

This part of the requiem is introduced by the soprano. It is not as sad as its title suggests. The music builds up slowly and is very beautiful and the choir accompanies the soprano, giving it a serene undertone.

Movement 6: Denn wir haben hier keine bleibende Stadt (For we have here no lasting place)

These words show how life is dynamic and that nothing is really static. We may build the greatest cities and civilisations, be it Babylon or London, but at the end of the day, we all expect the same destiny: death. “Listen, I tell you a secret for we will all be changed.” What is life about? What will happen after life? Will our differences be the same after death?

This movement is heavy and a tremor builds up over a powerful crescendo carried by the baritone and the choir.

Movement 7: Selig sind die Toten (Blessed are the dead)

The last movement is very reminiscent of the introductory movement. It is calm in nature and resolves the requiem. It gives piece to the listener.

You can order the requiem on Amazon by clicking the link below:

 

Image reproduced from http://upload.wikimedia.org