On a cold, dark rainy Thursday evening this week, after a longish day at work, I drove up to the Philharmonie in Essen to listen to Verdi’s Requiem for the first time. Sitting in the midst of the silver-haired audience, I was relieved to nestle into my seat just in time. As the music began, I was surprised at how dramatic and theatrical the Requiem was – trumpet fanfares, whispered passages and a ferocious ‚Dies Irae‘ (which most people will recognise when they hear it). In fact, it felt like pure Opera. No surprise to learn later then, that this was the only large-scale piece Verdi wrote which wasn’t an opera. And interestingly, that Verdi was a suspected agnostic. He even included female voices in his score and convinced the church and its archbishops to allow them to sing in the church, which at the time was not routine practice.
The Requiem is off course, the traditional Roman Catholic mass for the dead. Hundreds have been written since the middle ages by countless composers. A few are however particularly well known and often performed. In the last couple of years I have had the chance to perform the Brahms Requiem and the Requiem from Fauré with my choir.
Otherwise known as „A German Requiem“, Brahms Requiem is sung in German rather than Latin and said to be humanist and non-liturgical. Listening to its powerful text, intricate melodies both firm and gentle, could bring nothing other than comfort to the dying and those left behind.
If I had to choose a favourite, it would probably be the Requiem from Gabriel Fauré. It has a softness and sweetness which speaks peace. No wrath, no indignation, just beauty and peace.
All 3 Requiems were written in the late 19th century, all written as expected in commemoration and remembrance. Granted, penned by an Italian, a German and a Frenchman respectively, but still surprising in their completely differing interpretation and delivery. All have a fitting place. It reminded me of the stages of grief as described by Kübler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These emotions and attitudes are certainly to be found in all these pieces in varying degrees. In the words of Heinrich Heine: „Where words leave off, music begins.”