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Notes on Requiem


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I have divide the musical history of requiem mass into the following sections, all the text were extract from the "Grove Music Encyclopaedia".

  1. Gregorian Chant

  2. Polyphonic settings to 1600

  3. 1600 to 1900

  4. After 1900

Gregorian Chant

Requiem mass were first perform in the format of Gregorian Chant, the celebration of the Eucharist in honour of the dead is mentioned as early as the late 2nd century Acta Johannis, and in a Smyrnese document (Martyrium Polycarpi) of similar date; the roots of this practice are likely to be much older still.  However there is no surviving source for the 8th - 9th century text.  The earliest sources for the chants are F-CHRm 47 and LA 239, both from the 10th century. The repertory grew rapidly from the 10th to the 14th centuries with the result that not fewer than 16 introits, 14 graduals, 12 tracts, 20 offertories, 36 communions and even seven alleluias survive from the Middle Ages.

The variety in the repertory is in part a reflection due to the regional differences; in part it is a result of some manuscripts presenting more than one formulary for Masses for the Dead and other sources giving alternative chants within the framework of a single formulary. Approximately 300 different formularies are known. While some medieval chants created for the Requiem use melodic formulae familiar from the standard repertory and others are clearly based on pre-existing chants, there is also a group that shows no obvious use of standard Gregorian turns of phrase.

After the proliferation of votive masses during the 13th and 14th centuries, church law gradually limited both the use of the Requiem and the number of chants appropriate to its celebration. The content was limited further by the Council of Trent (1545–63). The absence of indices of graduals from about 1600 to about 1880 renders it impossible to describe the extent of the repertory for the Requiem during this period. The normative formulary of about 1880 to about 1970 included the introit Requiem aeternam; a very simple, repetitive 6th-mode Kyrie; the gradual Requiem aeternam; tract Absolve Domine; sequence Dies irae; offertory Domine Jesu Christe; nearly syllabic settings of the Sanctus and Agnus Dei; the communion Lux aeterna; and Requiescant in pace. The responsory Libera me may follow the completion of the Requiem Mass. The Dominican order allowed for the use of the gradual Si ambulem and the tract Sicut cervus for specific circumstances and used an 8th-mode Kyrie, also of very restricted range. (The Cistercians and Carthusians also permitted limited alternatives.) Following the revisions of the 1970 Roman Missal, the 1974 Graduale Sacrosanctae Romanae Ecclesiae provided for considerable flexibility of choice. Alternative chants were selected for practical reasons from the current chant repertory. Thus only two of the seven introits sanctioned, three of the six graduals, none of the five alleluias, all four tracts, three of the seven offertories and two of the ten communions belong to the corpus of medieval chants associated with the Requiem. None of the chants allotted to Paschal time belongs to the medieval corpus. There is in addition a Requiem formulary for Baptized Children, with two alternatives for Paschal time; of the seven chants included, only the introit Ego autem cum iustitia apparebo was used in this function during the Middle Ages.

Polyphonic settings to 1600

Of the principal liturgical destinations, that of the Mass for the Dead appears to have been the last to resist the incorporation of composed polyphony, possibly because the burial service was deemed too solemn an occasion to warrant festal trappings (although there are indications that improvised polyphony may have been tolerated). Whatever the reason, the tradition of polyphonic requiem mass settings seems not to predate the second half of the 15th century. Isolated requiem mass movements survive, but the first extant cycle, by Ockeghem, dates from after 1450 and is probably incomplete in its sole surviving source (the Sanctus, Agnus Dei and Communion are missing).  (Webmaster's Note:  It seems this article have not been update seems it been written, currently the first polyphonic Requiem were mention in the will of the Burgundian school composer,  Guillaume Du Fay, ca.1400-1474, however there is no script of it!!!)  Liturgically, the choice of movements set to polyphony might be compared to a pared-down plenary mass cycle; insofar as the heterogeneous stylistic profile of the earliest requiem settings resembles that of the few plenary mass cycles that survive (most notably Du Fay's Missa S Jacobi), it is possible that the one tradition grew out of the other, in which case the lost setting by Du Fay may possibly have preceded Ockeghem's. Du Fay's work is described in a copying record of 1470–71 as ‘de novo compilata’, a phrase best translated as ‘newly revised’ or ‘composed anew’; hence, it may have originated some time earlier. In any case, the question of precedence cannot be definitely settled. The next extant settings are thought to be those by Brumel, La Rue and Prioris; the last two in particular show signs of having been modelled on Ockeghem's work which, in turn, may have taken Du Fay's setting as its model.

In the first two decades of the 16th century, polyphonic requiem settings became increasingly common. Early settings include those by Richafort, Antoine de Févin (also ascribed to Divitis), Engarandus Juvenis and Escobar. The Requiem ascribed to Basurto is a composite work, incorporating movements from the settings by Ockeghem and Brumel; but it is unclear precisely which movements (if any) originate with Basurto himself.

These earliest requiem settings are remarkable for their extreme textural variety, and for a tendency to juxtapose music of the utmost simplicity with passages of considerable contrapuntal sophistication (the offertories of Ockeghem and La Rue being fine examples of the latter). As the 16th century progressed, sobriety gained the upper hand, a trend compensated in some cases by an increased propensity to rich scoring (Richafort's setting is for six voices). Further, the genre remained a haven for tenor cantus firmi and plainchant paraphrase, which were losing ground to parody technique in the domain of the Mass Ordinary. These are indications of an abiding conservatism, perhaps a survival of the apparent reluctance to admit polyphony into the Office for the Dead a few decades earlier. Indeed, Richafort's setting appears to stand alone in its incorporation of secular materials: its use of canon (itself exceptional) was probably inspired by Josquin's Nymphes nappés, which is quoted in several places; and the setting of Faulte d'argent attributed to Josquin is quoted at the words ‘c’est douleur non pareille’ alongside the plainchant Circumdederunt me.

From the earliest requiem settings onwards there is a marked absence of standardization as to which movements were set polyphonically. The movements surviving in any given source are not necessarily a reliable guide, since scribes may have copied only those movements appropriate to local practice. Only three integrated, alternatim settings of the sequence Dies irae are known to predate the second half of the 16th century.

This pre-Tridentine diversity extends to the texts appropriate to the gradual (Si ambulem or Requiem aeternam) and the tract, as well as encompassing minor variants for the offertory Domine Jesu Christe (e.g. ‘de poenis inferni’ or ‘de manu inferni’). A bigger variant is ‘ne cadant in obscurum’ (Roman and Tridentine Use, 1570), which also appears as ‘ne cadant in obscura tenebrarum loca’ (Ockeghem's setting has ‘obscura tenebrarum’ in its only source). This variety extends to plainchants as well as texts. However, generalizations concerning the location of such variants along broad geo-political lines are problematic. Chantbooks reflect a multitude of local variants from one diocese to the next. Furthermore, specific polyphonic settings could be sung irrespective of whether the borrowed chant coincided with that in local use. Even in the post-Tridentine period, the relationship between texts and their corresponding chants was quite flexible: in Spain, for example, certain dioceses preferred to adapt their old chants to the new texts set out by the Council, rather than to discard them altogether.

The polyphonic requiem flourished with a particular intensity on the Iberian peninsula. The first extant Iberian setting, by Pedro Escobar, existed by about 1520. Vásquez's setting (published in 1556) is remarkable for being part of a complete Agenda defunctorum that included Matins and Lauds in addition to the more usual Vespers and Mass. In the first publication, the original Sevillan chants appear alongside their polyphonic elaborations. It was in Spain and Portugal that the tradition of stile antico requiem settings had the greatest longevity, its ramifications extending well into the next century (as with Victoria's setting), and, through the colonial possessions of both countries, into new continents as well.

1600 to 1900

Early in the 17th century the Renaissance polyphonic style, in various modified forms, served for several decades as a principal medium for requiem composition. A fine example, in Palestrinian style, is G.F. Anerio's setting (published in 1614, and reprinted three times up to 1677), the introit of which reveals an elegant use of chant paraphrase. Similar in approach, but with more archaic cantus firmus treatment, are the expressive settings of two of Victoria's successors, Duarte Lobo (Officium defunctorum, 1603) and J.P. Pujol (requiem for four voices, before 1626). An important innovation, evident in a number of works, is the inclusion of an organ continuo part (with figured or unfigured bass), which allowed greater variations in texture and dynamics. Early examples include Aichinger's requiem (1615; D-As) and settings, from 1619, by Antonio Brunelli and Jean de Bournonville. In France, finely moulded part-writing, close in style to that of Lassus, is found in requiem settings by Eustache Du Caurroy (1606, ed. in Le pupitre, lxv, 1983) and Etienne Moulinié (1636, ed. D. Launay, Paris, 1952). Du Caurroy's work, which omits the sequence but includes settings of the gradual and its psalm verse (Psalm xxii.4), was sung at the funeral of Henri IV in 1610, and adopted thereafter for the obsequies of all French kings until 1774.

Documentary evidence only has survived for what was possibly the earliest use of a truly moderno style. In an account of a requiem performed in Venice in 1621 at a memorial service for the late Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo II de’ Medici, Giulio Strozzi refers to music (now lost) by Monteverdi and his colleagues G.B. Grillo and Francesco Usper, including solo vocal items and an instrumental sinfonia at the start of the ceremonies and recurring during the introit (D. de’ Paoli, Claudio Monteverdi, Milan, 1945, p.241).

Later in the 17th century numerous requiem settings, many in concertato style, were produced by composers including G.B. Bassani, G.A. Bernabei, Antonio Bertali (eight settings), Biber, Giovanni Cavaccio, Cavalli, Cazzati, Joan Cererols, G.P. Colonna, P.A. Fiocco (three settings), Santino Girelli, J.K. Heller, J.C. Kerll (two settings), A.V. Michna, Marcin Mielczewski, Alessandro Scarlatti, Johann Stadlmayer, Christoph Straus (two settings) and Viadana.

Christoph Straus's requiem of 1631 (ed. in DTÖ, lix,, 1923/R) is scored for two choruses, one high and one low, with voices and instruments (strings) combined. Little distinction is made between vocal and instrumental idioms, but some variety of scoring is indicated by ‘ta[cent]' and ‘son[ant]’ markings in the string parts. Text illustration includes vocal trilli for ‘Quantus tremor est futurus’; and an optional Symphonia ad imitatione campanae, with tolling bell patterns in the bass supporting overlapping figuration above, provides a suitably sombre opening.

Further developments are seen in two other settings from the Austrian courts, Kerll’s Missa pro defunctis (1689; D-Mbs) and Biber's requiem (F minor, c1690; both ed. in DTÖ, lix,, 1923/R). In Kerll's multi-sectional sequence, solo vocal settings are provided for several of the central verses; and effective word-painting is achieved by means of string tremolandos for the ‘Quantus tremor’ section and fanfare-like arpeggios, vocal and instrumental, for ‘Tuba mirum’. Biber wrote more idiomatically for both strings and solo voices, the latter most notably in a florid bass solo at the start of the offertory. Syllabic quavers are used for rapid absorption of the lengthy sequence text; but there are also moments of repose, such as the fine passage, for chorus, with violin decorations, from the ‘Lacrimosa’ to the end.

The Messe des morts by Jean Gilles (c1700, ed. in RRMBE, xlvii, 1984), gained widespread admiration in 18th-century France for its lively character. The vocal soloists and orchestra predominate, often with dance-like music, while the chorus contributes climactic endings to each main section in a largely homophonic style. At Rameau's funeral on 27 September 1764 the requiem is said to have been ‘interlarded with passages from Castor and Pollux and other operas’ by the deceased composer; and at the Concert Spirituel towards the end of the century to have been embellished by ‘a carillon added at the end … by Michel Corrette’.

From the late 17th century onwards, mainly through the contributions of leading opera composers such as Feo, Galuppi, Hasse, Pergolesi, Jommelli, Gassmann, Cimarosa and Gossec, individual movements of the requiem became gradually larger, the orchestration richer and the solo vocal writing more elaborate. In some cases, single texts, usually the sequence and the responsory, were set separately, either as independent motets or as a means of providing vivid contrast within chanted forms of the funeral service. Examples include an impressive Dies irae for soloists, double chorus and orchestra by Lully (1684, ed. H. Prunières, Les Motets, ii, Paris, 1935); and one with similar scoring by J.C. Bach (1757, I-Bc; ed. J. Bastian, Mainz, 1972).

A mixture of styles, not unusual for the period, is evident in Jommelli's requiem in E (1756, A-LA; vocal score ed. J. Stern, Leipzig, 1866). Operatic solos (for soprano in the Benedictus, and for bass, with ‘heroic’ descending octaves, in the ‘Tuba mirum’) are juxtaposed, somewhat uneasily, with stretches of pedestrian church counterpoint, one of them a double fugue for the ‘Pie Jesu’ which compares strangely with later songlike settings of that text. Less polished, but more committed emotionally, is the requiem in C minor by Georg Reutter (ii) (1753; A-GÖ, ed. in DTÖ, lxxxviii, 1952). Not primarily an opera composer, he is most effective in majestic choral passages such as the opening of the Sanctus. In the sequence (and sporadically elsewhere) the idea of ‘judgment’ is portrayed by clarino fanfares, and the ‘Tuba mirum’ is set as a reflective alto solo with an imitative countermelody (in an interesting anticipation of Mozart's setting) for solo trombone.

Preceding Mozart's Requiem more immediately, and possibly influential upon it, are the settings by Michael Haydn (1771; D-Bsb) and F.L. Gassmann (1774; introit and Kyrie only; ed. in DTÖ, lxxxiii, Jg.xlv, 1938), both of them links in a continuing Viennese tradition. One of the most striking features of Haydn's setting is the use in the ‘Te decet hymnus’ of a theme based on the appropriate plainchant melody; Mozart, in contrast, used the tonus peregrinus associated with Psalm cxiii. Another ‘predecessor’ work, in the French tradition, which points beyond Mozart to the early 19th century, is Gossec's Requiem (1760), in which the ‘Tuba mirum’ is startlingly portrayed by two orchestras, one, comprising 23 woodwind and brass instruments, concealed aloft in the church, and the other, of strings, playing pianissimo and tremolando outside the building.

Despite the complexity of its origins – its composition during the composer's final days and completion after his death by F.X. Süssmayr (with some input from J.L. Eybler and, possibly, F.J. Freystädtler) – Mozart's Requiem is the most important example from the 18th century. The exact extent of Mozart's contribution is still debated; but such stylistic unevenness as may have resulted from additions by others has hardly lessened the impact of the work as a whole. After Mozart's death in 1791, a memorial requiem for him (now lost) by Antonio Rosetti was performed in Prague; and in 1803, Eybler himself composed a grand Requiem in C minor (A-Wn 16.591), regarded generally as his most important work.

The two most important and still frequently performed requiem settings from the 19th century, Berlioz's Grande messe des morts (1837) and Verdi's Messa da Requiem (1874, in memory of Alessandro Manzoni), clearly overstep liturgical bounds, Berlioz's by the grand scale of its forces, Verdi's by its rearrangement of the text. In both works the sequence (no doubt more with theatrical than with theological intent) provides a memento mori of chilling intensity; solace is also evident in keenly felt music for the more meditative texts, notably the Sanctus in Berlioz's and the Agnus Dei in Verdi's.

In 1816 the Brazilian composer José Maurício Garcia completed his imposing fourth (and last) requiem; it is widely regarded as his finest work. In the following year, in France, two requiem settings were commissioned to mark the annual commemoration of Louis XVI's execution: Cherubini's Requiem in C minor, and a monumental setting by N.C. Bochsa, including wind band and percussion, and designed for an open-air reinterment ceremony. Cherubini's impressive work makes few concessions in the way of melodic charm or theatrical effect. Word-illustration is confined mainly to the offertory, where ‘the pains of hell’ and ‘the deep lake’ provoke shuddering demisemiquaver patterns on the orchestra, and ‘the fall into darkness’ is portrayed most movingly by broken phrases on male voices and strings descending to a solitary A in the bass. His equally fine, though more simple, Requiem in D minor, scored for male chorus and orchestra, is a purely liturgical work, intended for, and used at, his own funeral in 1842. Similar settings for male voices include one by Liszt, dated 1867–8, in which soloists and chorus are accompanied by organ and optional brass.

Bruckner's Requiem (1848–9) reveals, in its busy string figuration against slower-moving choral writing, persistent metrical patterns and organ figured bass, the influence of the Viennese masses of the late 18th century. Its modest length and faithful adherence to the Latin text make it entirely suitable for liturgical use. After the mid-century, however, many important settings, including those of Schumann (1851), Moniuszko (1862), Saint-Saëns (1878) and Dvorák (1891), were conceived more in terms of the concert hall, inclining, by their grand scale and, in some cases, textual liberties, towards the oratorio, the most favoured sacred genre of the 19th century. Dvorák's setting, with a duration of some 95 minutes, is one of the longest of the period, and requires numerous text repetitions and short orchestral interventions to fill its symphonic ‘canvas’. Structural unity is enhanced by the use of a motto theme (drawn from the first notes of the plainchant introit), heard at the opening and recalled in several later movements.

Brahms's non-liturgical German Requiem (1857–68) is unified by the close relationship between its musical concept and its text, which the composer himself compiled from the Lutheran Bible. A source of inspiration may well have been the funeral music by Schütz, a composer Brahms is known to have admired, though, as his contemporaries remarked, his textual mosaic lacks the specifically Christian dimension of the earlier work. French contributions to the genre from the later part of the century include settings by L.T. Gouvy (c1880) and Alfred Bruneau (1896), both large-scale and technically accomplished, but insufficiently characterful to have survived in the repertory. In Bruneau's work, trumpets situated on either side of the auditorium present the Dies irae plainchant in alternate notes, as a curious type of instrumental hocket. Altogether more refined in style, Fauré's Requiem bears imprints of the composer's early training in plainchant and 16th-century polyphony. Originally the work had five movements only – Introit and Kyrie, Sanctus, Pie Jesu (for treble soloist), Agnus Dei and In Paradisum – with an orchestra of lower strings, harp, timpani and organ, and a solo violin in the Sanctus. In this form it was performed at a funeral in Ste Marie-Madeleine, Paris, in January 1888. Thereafter, in two stages up to 1900, it was augmented by the addition of an offertory and responsory, both with a baritone soloist, and an enlargement of the orchestra to include woodwind, brass and a full complement of strings.

After 1900

Requiem settings from the 20th century are remarkable for their range and variety. Those that continue the ‘symphonic’ manner of the previous century include the settings by Maliszewski (1930), G.F. Malipiero (1938), Guido Guerrini (Missa pro defunctis ‘alla memoria di G. Marconi’, 1938–9), Sutermeister (1952), Virgil Thomson (1960) and Frank Martin (1971–2); others are of a specifically national or racial orientation, such as the Requiem (1963) by Wilfrid Josephs, a setting of the Hebrew Kaddish Prayer for the Dead, and Penderecki’s Polish Requiem (1980–84).

Conceived within the bounds of liturgical worship are a number of a cappella requiem settings, which display a simplicity and sobriety that recall the aims of the 19th-century Cecilian movement. Principal among these are those of Pizzetti (1922–3), Georges Migot (1953), Priaulx Rainier (1955), Randall Thompson (1958) and Iain Hamilton (1979). Similarly restrained is the highly successful Requiem (1947, rev.1961) by Duruflé, dedicated to the memory of the composer’s father. It derives grace and suppleness from its modal harmony and the plainchant melodies used in many of its movements, and shares several features of style and scoring with Fauré’s Requiem.

Further dedications are found in Kabalevsky’s Symphony no.3 in B minor (1933), described as a ‘Requiem with chorus for Lenin’, Hanns Eisler’s Lenin-Requiem (1970), Cesar Bresgen’s Requiem für Anton Webern (1945–72) and a Requiem à memória de Petro de Freitas Branco (1964) by Joly Braga Santos. Among the settings commemorating the dead of the two world wars are John Foulds’s World Requiem (1919–21) and Britten’s War Requiem (1961), the latter providing graphic comment on the tragic futility of war by its juxtaposition of war poems by Wilfred Owen with Missa pro defunctis texts.

Some 20th-century settings treat the text in a fragmented or discontinuous manner and make use of extended vocal and instrumental techniques. Ligeti’s Requiem consists of just four sections, ‘Introitus’, ‘Kyrie’, ‘De Judicii Sequentia’ and ‘Lacrimosa’: the third of these features violently disjunct vocal lines, with words and syllables split between different voice-parts. In the Kyrie, on the other hand, what Ligeti calls ‘micropolyphony’, fast-moving canonic patterns in the voices, is set against a slow-moving chromatic orchestral background. In Stravinsky’s Requiem Canticles (1965–6), another partial setting of the liturgy, the words of the ‘Libera me’ are sung by a quartet of soloists and, at the same time, spoken by the chorus in a rapid, rhythmically free parlando. Geoffrey Burgon’s Requiem (1976), which introduces 16th-century texts by St John of the Cross to comment on the Latin liturgy (the Kyrie and Sanctus are omitted), makes use, like Ligeti’s, of ‘splintered’ text-setting, as well as chorus whispering and, for its mysterious ending, the ‘silent’ blowing of air through the brass instruments.

Among works that exist on the fringe of the genre are John Tavener’s Celtic Requiem (1969), which links liturgy, Irish poetry and children’s games in a manner suitable for stage performance. Others stretch the genre’s boundaries away from the text altogether. Koechlin’s incomplete Requiem des pauvres bougres (1937) uses only the words ‘Requiem aeternam, dona eis requiem’ as the basis of three short choral invocations, alternating with instrumental sections for piano or organ and orchestra. Henze’s Requiem (1990–92), on the other hand, dispenses completely with voices. With the exception of the third, ‘Ave verum corpus’, each of its concertante movements, for trumpet or piano solo with large chamber orchestra, bears the title of a section of the Requiem Mass. Though its message is humanist and political rather than religious (the ‘Dies irae’ and ‘Rex tremendae’ movements were provoked by events of the 1991 Gulf War) it shares with liturgical settings a preoccupation with, as Henze puts its, ‘the human fears and needs of our time, with illness and death, love and loneliness’.

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Revised: 07/01/05 20:36:35 -0400.