Why no Requiem atonal?

Today is Remembrance Sunday in the UK, when we remember all those who lost their lives in the struggle for peace and freedom. Remembrance Sunday has many musical connections, ranging from Benjamin Britten through Arvo Pärt, to George Lloyd, who was himself traumatised in action.

Next Saturday I will be at a performance in Norwich Cathedral of Herbert Howell's 1936 Requiem. This is an economic, intense and moving work that lasts for little more than fifteen minutes, and is scored for SSAATTBB and organ. There is an excellent recording of it on Naxos by the Choir of St Johns' College, Cambridge directed by Christopher Robinson. The CD also includes Take him, earth, for cherishing, the motet composed by Howells to mark the assasination of President John F. Kennedy. We will be remembering that sad event just five days after the Norwich Cathedral performance of Howell's Requiem.

My footer photo is a reminder of one of the more obscure musical connections to Remembrance Sunday. It shows the Cenotaph in Whitehall where the nation remembers the war dead today. The stark monument was designed by the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, whose daughter we caught recently walking with Stravinsky. And that mention of 'Twelve-tone Lizzie' brings me to an important question that lies behind my scepticism about the current media hype surrounding John Foulds' World Requiem. Why does our public music of remembrance have to be 'accessible' and not too challenging? Why does it have to be so 'Classic FM'?

If you must have your Nimrod, but you like to be tonally challenged, why not try Thomas Adès' first string quartet Arcadiana? This was first performed at the Cambridge Elgar Festival in 1994. It is quintessential Adès, and you definitely won't hear it on Classic FM. But the sixth movement is titled O Albion, and for seventeen devotissimo bars in E flat, the key of Nimrod, it movingly pay homage to the time of Elgar and those that died in the trenches of the Somme. But if you come from the World Requiem 'big is beautiful' school why not try Geoffrey Burgon's 1976 Requiem, and give your loudspeakers a real workout? More on Geoffrey Burgon here.

In his peerless War Requiem Benjamin Britten stressed reconciliation as well as remembrance by specifying (but not obtaining) a British, German and Russian soloist for the work's first performance in Coventry Cathedral, the preserved ruins of which are seen below. If, like me, you value reconciliation as well as remembrance, and are uncomfortable with the jingoism associated with the Albert Hall, I give you two personal choices of music for Remembrance Sunday.

Toru Takemitsu's Requiem (for string orchestra) was written in 1957 in memory of the Japanese film composer Fumio Hayasaka. It is a slow, elegiac work lasting a little over ten minutes. The three movements are marked Lento, Modére and Moins lent. Disarmingly the composer later explained "I was never able to write an Allegro ..."

I write this waiting for the start of the BBC broadcast from the Cenotaph. A CD is playing that moves me even more than the Nimrod that will be played in a few minutes. Eleven young choristers from the famous Kreuzchor were among more the 25,000 killed in the British and American bombing of Dresden on February 13th 1945. As well as the terrible loss of its choristers, the famous choir also lost its its neogothic choir school on the Georgplatz, its library of sheet music and archive, and its very raison d'être, the beautiful Kreuzkirche (Church of the Holy Cross) which dated from the 13th century.

The cantor of the Kreuzkirche, Rudolf Mauersberger, completed his Dresden Requiem in 1961. It is a profoundly moving memorial to the victims of the bombing of Dresden. But it was also a living symbol of Dresden's resistance to the repressive political regime in the GDR until Die Wende in 1989. There is an excellent recording of the Dresden Requiem by the Kreuzchor on the German Carus label. My header image is a session photo from the recording in Dresden's Lukaskirche in 1994. This has been the venue for many famous recordings, including Herbert von Karajan's 1970 Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

Rudolf Mauersberger's Dresden Requiem was written for the boy's voices of the Kreuzchor. Much of the singing is a capella, but the score also uses a small ensemble of organ, celeste, trombones, double basses and percussion. It is certainly not atonal, but neither is it 'Classic FM'. And it has been performed in Dresden every year since its premiere more than fifty years ago.

You can read the full story of the Dresden Requiem, and listen to samples, here. To my knowledge it has never been performed in London. Let us remember the dead of the bombing of Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki today, as well as all other victims of war. And let us hope for a London performance of Rudolf Mauersberger's Dresden Requiem in the future.

* Update - read here how the World Requiem un-Foulded.

Follow this path to see Dresden restored from the ruins.
Image credits. Header Carus, middle Wikipedia, footer Ministry of Defense Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Daniel Wolf said…
Did you consider Stravinsky's Requiem Canticles?
Pliable said…
Yes, Daniel I did.

There were also the Requiems by Ligeti and Theodorakis.

And moving towards Classic FM there's John Rutter. And moving to the ridiculous, or is it sublime? Bernstein.

From the States someone will surely advocate Richard Danielpour's American Requiem?

The Takemitsu and Mauersberger are two lesser known works that are personally important.

Requiem Canticles is an excellent addition. Others are, as ever, very welcome.
Pliable said…
Other less tonal additions could be ...

György Kurtág's Officium Breve in Memoriam Andreć Szervánszky.

Pierre Boulez's Rituel in Memoriam Maderna which William Glock described as 'the majestic processional in memory of Bruno Maderna'.


petemaskreplica said…
Bridge's Oration and Feldman's The Rothko Chapel are two very fine memorials. I sometimes suspect that all of Feldman's music has an element of remembrance to it.
Oliver said…
Minor point, but Arcadiana was premiered in 94, not 84.

An addition; Oliver Knussen's very beautiful work in memory of his wife, Requiem for Sue.
Pliable said…
Oliver, you are quite right. My mistake entirely, I'll correct it.

Pete, Feldman's Rothko Chapel is an excellent suggesion.

Following the Feldman thread Takemitsu's Twill by Twilight (In Memory of Morton Feldman) comes to mind.

I have also recently discovered James Tenney's Form 4 (1994) In Memoriam Morton Feldman which I do recommend -http://www.hathut.com/covers/127b.gif
JMW said…
Silvestrov's Requiem for Larissa, Franz Schmidt's 4th Symphony, Joseph Suk's Asrael Symphony, Benjamin Lees' Symphony No.4 "Memorial Candles"... The list goes on.
Garth Trinkl said…
"From the States someone will surely advocate Richard Danielpour's American Requiem?"

I heard the Danielpour Requiem at the National Catholic Shrine soemwhat recently, but I can't recall it.

I do recall, fairly positively, James DeMars's very musically conservative, but exceptionally heartfelt, American Requiem -- available on recording.

Also exceptionally poignant (at least to me) is Andrew Imbrie's atonal Requiem from 1984 (dedicated to his 17 or 18 year old son).

Henry Brant wrote a wind orchestral Requiem, from 1970, which I vaguely recall positively.

Vyacheslav Artyomov wrote his Latin-texted Requiem in the 1980s, and I consider it a twentieth century masterpiece (missing in action, however, from both Paul Griffiths's and Alex Ross's new 2oth c. classical music accounts). Rostropovich tried, but could not secure the resources and funding, for a Washington, D.C. North American premiere of the work.

Jocelyn Pook's Requiem is also, I recall, a haunting and effective sampled near classical work.

And, as JW says, this just scratches the surface...
Pliable said…
Garth, strange you should say that.

After posting that comment on Sunday I listened again to Richard Danielpour's American Requiem.

Today I can't recall it.

But one work that I listened to today, again, most definitely should be on the list - John Tavener's Funeral Ikos (Ikon Records IKOCD 701E with Ivan Moody diecting the Kasatalsky Chamber Choir).
Garth Trinkl said…
I'm also wondering how many readers here have listened, recently, to (or heard a live performance of), Hindemith's and Sessions's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd"; both based upon Walt Whitman's Abraham Lincoln threnody.

The former was dedicated publically, I believe, to the memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Americans who died in WWII; while more deeply, and less nationalistically, "for those we love".

The Sessions's "When Lilacs ..." was inspired by and dedicated to, at least in part, the memories of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy, both assasinated in the Spring of 1968.
Civic Center said…
I love the 1998 "Requiem for my friend" by the Polish film composer, Zbigniew Preisner, written for the great film director Krzysztof Kieślowski.
The requiem no one seems to know and I can find nothing about is Tomiko Kojiba's awesome Hiroshima Requiem. If anyone knows anything about this piece or has a better recording than the grainy Ozawa/BSO one I have, please let me know: rich AT richhorner DOT com


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