Thursday, June 18, 2015

Oro supplex et acclinis

" 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."
— Gabriel Fauré

My interest in vocal music has always been more on the pop side than classical.  It is only fairly recently that I have taken any interest in opera.  Although I have loved classical music since I was a child—of many eras and many styles—vocal music was excepted.  But, as is sometimes the way with such things, there was an exception to the exception: masses of requiem.

I can recall quite clearly the first Requiem which I consciously fell in love with.  It was Mozart's Requiem Mass in D, performed by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and heard in the film Amadeus, which I saw at the Cinema 150 in Santa Clara, California in 1985.  I liked the movie, but I was overwhelmed by the Requiem.  I did not purchase the movie soundtrack, I rather purchased a full recording of the Requiem, and listened to it compulsively.  (I am not too compulsive, though.  I only own three different recordings of this particular work, to date.)

I was not, and am not, religious.  Neither do I have any particular interest in death.  Nonetheless, as the years went by I added more and more requiem masses to my collection.

As I write this, I am listening to Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber's Requiem à 15 performed by Koor & Barokorkest van de Nederlandse Bachvereniging, directed by Gustav Leonhardt.  I find it calmly stimulating (if that makes sense), somewhat uplifting, somewhat melancholy.  It has interesting orchestration.

Another beautiful requiem, which I find even more calming, is the Messe de Requiem by Gabriel Fauré.  I am almost tempted to describe it as "austere", yet if that fits, then it must be said that it is lovely in its austerity.

The Requiem that I find perhaps most peaceful is that of Johannes Ockeghem.  As similar as it sounds to Gregorian chant (at least to my modern ears) it is apparently the earliest surviving polyphonic setting of the requiem mass, though some passages are, in fact, plainchant.

Requiem masses do not all have a calming effect on me.  Indeed, that first Mozart Requiem that I fell in love with is dynamic, rousing, sometimes frightening.  I am not certain what it is about requiems, in general, which appeal to me.  Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that requiems are not generally written as show pieces for one voice.  While I have, of late, come to appreciate certain opera arias, there are far more that I find to be...too much.  Requiems have their solos, yes, but they are more dominated by choral passages—and even the solos have more of a tendency to...serve the whole, I suppose...than does your typical opera aria.

Of the requiems with which I am familiar—including those by Cherubini, Brahms, Delius and Penderecki, among others—there is only one that I can think of which did not appeal to me at all.  Then again, I cannot think of any work by Andrew Lloyd Webber which does appeal to me.

Whatever the reason may be for my love of this form, I suppose that it is one thing for which I must thank the Catholic church.*

* Having said that, I feel that I should note that Pope Francis seems intent on convincing me to be grateful to the Catholic church (or at least to he, himself) for other things, as well.  First there was his suggestion that, basically, there were better things to worry about than homosexuality—tepid, yes, but light years ahead of his predecessor.  And now, as I write this, he has just released an encyclical on the environment and climate change.  It is the first papal encyclical I have ever sought out, and though I have read, so far, only a portion of it, I must say that I am most impressed.  Long may he lead that institution, and may his influence be broad and lasting.

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