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


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

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