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Instrumentation: Soprano and cello

Duration: ca. 12 minutes

i. Kyrie/requiem aeternam
ii. interlude: dies irae
iii. psalm 130
iv. libera me/fac eas
v. agnus Dei
vi. interlude: agnus Dei
vii. psalm 23
viii. requiescat

Text: Excerpts from traditional Requiem Mass and psalms

Year composed: 2018

Place composed: Kansas City, Missouri

Program Notes:
Throughout music history, composers of all (and no) religious persuasions have been drawn to the Catholic Church’s Requiem Mass for the dead. The traditional text is a powerful meditation on death, God, and the response of those remaining among the living. Musical settings of the Requiem range from traditional treatments for use in funeral services to works for quite different uses — for example, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, written to protest the horrors of war and to reconsecrate a cathedral that had been destroyed in World War II. Many composers in the 19th century through the present have also taken liberties with the text, picking and choosing elements of the traditional text and sometimes interspersing other texts as well; famous examples of this include Britten’s War Requiem and Johannes Brahms’ German Requiem.

Most requiems are written for a chorus, which in some ways represents the community that mourns the loss of the dead and prays for its own salvation. My Requiem, by contrast, is for a single singer. I seek through this piece to represent the mourning of an individual over the passing of a loved one, or over a divorce (which is a kind of death), wrestling with grief and doubt, and finally coming to acceptance and trust in the God who is Lord over life, death, and life eternal.

Harmonically, my Requiem is written using church modes, beginning in F-sharp Locrian, the most unstable and dissonant of the modes. The inner movements cycle through other modes, all with the single F-sharp as an accidental: B Phrygian, A Dorian, E Aeolian, and D Mixolydian. Each of these modes gets progressively “brighter,” moving toward the major scale, as the text gradually moves from despair toward hope. Acknowledging that hope does not efface grief in the present, however, the piece ends as it began, in F-sharp Locrian. The only other accidental in the piece is a B-flat, which appears in the seventh movement, “Psalm 23,” in the lines “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”

The piece inverts the traditional order of the first two texts, beginning with a desperate cry for mercy (“Kyrie eleison”) followed by the prayer for rest for the dead (“requiem aeternam”). The traditional chant melody for the “Dies irae” (“Day of wrath”) is played as an interlude by the cello. The third movement is “Psalm 130,” a cry from the depths that includes the first glimmer of hope in the piece — “in his word do I hope.” The fourth movement uses individual phrases from two traditional Requiem texts: “deliver me” and “let them, O Lord, pass from death to life.” After a setting of the “Agnus Dei” (“Lamb of God”), the cello plays another interlude, based on a melody I composed in 2009 for congregational singing of the Agnus Dei. “Psalm 23” provides the musical and textual climax of the piece, with the assurance that “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” The final movement closes the piece with the words “Rest in peace. Amen.”