sunset theme

REQUIEM IN D MINOR – “THOUSAND COLOURS OF SUNSET”


PROGRAMME NOTES

by Jonathan Crow
Follow the links to go to notes on specific movements:

¦ 1st ¦ 2nd ¦ 3rd ¦ 4th ¦ 5th ¦ 6th ¦ 7th ¦ 8th ¦ 9th ¦ 10th ¦


Introduction

It has been my life’s ambition to compose a truly inspirational piece of music through which to communicate the most powerful innermost expression of profound feelings of life and death. Into such a work I would pour my very essence, my heart, body and soul. It would be an expression of all I hold dear, my faith and life experience. Such a piece if it could ever be composed would be truly special and would move the heart at the very deepest level. I firmly believe this piece to be that piece and I consider it my masterpiece.

The choice of writing a Requiem in my view fulfils such lofty ambition and is intensely personal. The feelings of awestruck wonder at the sight of a glorious sunset or rainbow arch over a mountain are all expressed, as are the feelings of utter loss and enduring sadness at the passing of those dearest to me. Where words cannot express what we feel, music must. From such experiences life’s rich tapestry is woven, and I have poured all my emotions into this piece at every level. I have felt a level of inspiration that has at times totally overwhelmed me. I wanted to give the piece its own special name to convey my own feeling that this piece is special – that name is Thousand Colours of Sunset.

There is something in beholding colour that enriches our experience of life, whether it is a spectacular sunset or a perfect rainbow arc or gorgeous flower. Music has its own wonderful language of colour and in my work I have sought to link music and colour in the kaleidoscope of movements as is described below. Music can bring a deep sense of inner peace and calm.

So it is with these thoughts that I offer this creation as a comfort to those who feel overwhelmed by feelings of sadness when remembering loved ones and those most special to us. Music and memory live on and what has been is never forgotten. There is much comfort in music.

Composition Structure and Underlying Inspiration – Music and Colour

My Requiem “Thousand Colours of Sunset”  has 10 movements and is based on the traditional form of the Requiem Mass set to Latin which language is so beautiful to sing. I have scored it for solo cello, solo violin, solo soprano, solo tenor, choir and keyboard. However, it is the cello part which stands out in my view. Moreover I have formed my very own choir specially for the performance, The Arcus Singers. The piece lasts just over 40 minutes.

My own compositional style is typically based on layering melodies over ground bass structures. Thus a melody is introduced and then a new counter melody is added over it and then another, layer upon layer, all the time building emotional intensity and reaching huge musical climaxes to emphasise key texts. Another favoured musical device is echo effects,and many movements feature such effects between various soloists and choral combinations.

To emphasise the link between music and colour, I have given each movement its own distinct colour theme which are chosen to express the colours of sunset under the title. This direct link between music and colour is something new for a Requiem.

At a deeper level, I intend for each movement to express on the one level those things associated with the colour of the movement and at another level the religious or other symbolism of the same colour as it seems to relate to the Requiem text. Thus, yellow – the colour of the Benedictus movement – is the colour of daffodils and sunshine and is also the colour that symbolises joy and happiness. The music, brief and fleeting as this movement actually is, seeks to express the colour at all levels of meaning.

Musical Influences

As a singer, composer, performer, teacher and listener, I have drawn on the influence of some of the finest  Requiems ever written (to date there are over 2,000 Requiem compositions) . Thus one can hear Mozart, M. Haydn, Cherubini, Schubert, Berlioz, Durufle, Faure, Brahms, Dvorak and even Preisner in the notes of mine. In fact one wonderful soprano I accompanied in Munich described my piece as sounding like all the Requiems ever written. I took that as high praise indeed. Even my choirmaster there was moved to say how beautiful my Requiem is.

Yet it is the influence of Bach himself, in my view the greatest composer of all, which can be heard, particularly in the ground bass structures, the immense fugues and the piercing harmonies and melodies. Whilst Bach did not actually write a Requiem, his great B Minor Mass (which in my view has the feel of a giant Requiem) has been a huge influence and stands as my favourite piece of music.

The opening however could almost be Bach while Handel can be heard in the Hosanna  and Dvorak in the Christe eleison.  I make no apology for writing melodies of great beauty, I have always been a melodist at heart and agree with Mozart that “melody is the essence of music”. As composer I feel a great affinity with Schubert the supreme melodist (who also wrote a Requiem – unfinished).

To follow in the footsteps of such giants as these is truly humbling and is in a way a reaction against the shallowness and absence of soul of the modern world.

Musical Evolution

My Requiem is also strongly autobiographical and has been a work in progress throughout my life. When I was at school in Colchester I had the idea of composing a work called “Heaven and Hell” which resulted in a powerful introduction. Whilst a music student at Bristol University, I read Dante’s Inferno which inspired me to start composing a musical. Yet both works were unfinished, for whatever reason I could not complete them.

It was not until my move to Munich in 2012 that I started composing a new piece in earnest which was to become my Requiem. In the space of just 3 weeks in the summer of 2015, I had sketched out the main movements, the inspiration was on a level I had never previously experienced, day after day, night after night I could not stop composing. I felt this was the work I was destined to write.

My Requiem was finally finished in summer 2017 when back in England with a brand new “Lacrimosa” setting and a major rewrite of the “Dies Irae”. Incredibly the work has taken two years to write, I have laboured over it night and day for weeks on end, a labour of love, to make this into something very special.

Dramatic theme titles

In the course of composing, I also had the idea to give names to some of the principal musical themes, in a Wagnerian manner, this also unique for a Requiem. Thus, in the 1st movement there are themes which have colourful names such as “Theme of a Thousand Sorrows” (conveyed by sustained notes in the cello in minor key) and “Great Waves of Sadness” theme (conveyed by a bass ostinato throughout the movement). The “Theme of a Thousand Sorrows” is subsequently heard in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 9th movements.

The soulful “Agnus Dei” has its own array of themes with such names as the “Prayer theme” (first introduced by the cello),“Tears of the Heart” (a falling motif in the bass set as another ostinato) and “The Rainbow” (heard in the cello). In the Rainbow theme, the shape of a rainbow can be traced in the pattern of notes, I only noticed this after composing it, proof of divine inspiration. The Rainbow theme is set over the Prayer theme, as an expression of faith and religious symbolism.

Life and Death Struggle

The music of my Requiem aeternam movement was inspired by a near drowning experience in Sandymouth in Devon, where the waves of an incoming high tide were continuously crashing over me and around me, and I was being overwhelmed. This comes through even more forcefully in the Libera Me, which transforms the opening themes at double speed into a great symphony around the urgent plea “Deliver me”. I was struggling against the sea – a life and death struggle – and that struggle is expressed in the emotional intensity of the music with the simple plea Libera me throughout.

It is my prayer that this piece will bring solace and comfort.

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1st movement – Requiem aeternam (colour BLUE) for solo soprano, solo tenor, cello and choir

Requiem aeternum dona eis, Domine
Et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Te decet hymnus, Deus, in Sion;
Et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem

Exaudi orationem mean
Ad te omnis caro veniet

Translation

Eternal rest give unto them O Lord, And let perpetual light shine upon them. A hymn, O God becometh Thee in Zion, and a vow shall be paid to thee in Jerusalem. Hear my prayer, All flesh shall come before you.
The colour associated with the flow of this captivating movement is blue, colour of sea and sky depicting tranquillity and calm.

The heart-wrenching introduction marked Adagio molto expressione is set on a Baroque “affekt” style featuring piercing harmonies, suspensions, over a throbbing, chromatic bass. If Bach had ever written a Requiem might it have sounded like this? The soprano enters with  “Requiem aeternam” set to gentle music of simplicity and sweet beauty, the melody repeated by cello. Then as a ray of pure sunshine through a dark cloud, the soloist brightens the music with a lift to the major key at “Et lux perpetua”.

This moment of “light” does not long last however, and the solo cello introduces one of the work’s principal themes, a particularly haunting melody bearing the title “Theme of a Thousand Sorrows” in long, sustained notes over a surging ground bass “Great Waves of Sadness” theme, the latter depicting the ceaseless roll of the waves of the sea. This is music out of the “blue” – colour of sea and sky. These highly affecting themes (the “affekt” of Bach), introduced as musical layers, are repeated as a ground bass  structure and the harmonic progression does give the music a certain hypnotic power . Another layer is added with the entry of the choir, to the words “Requiem aeternam”, and then another with the entry of the solo soprano with long sustained notes high above the choir, cello and bass. The spell is momentarily broken with a llft of the music at the words “Et lux perpetua”..

A contrasting passage “Te decet” then follows (which recurs in the In Paradisum movement) with the solo tenor and choir. The cello has a bridge passage back to the opening music with a lush harmonic variation of the “Theme of a Thousand Sorrows” . There is a reprise of the “Requiem aeternam” with its layered themes.

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2nd Movement – Kyrie eleison (colour ORANGE) for solo tenor, solo soprano, cello and choir

Kyrie, eleison

Christe, eleison

Kyrie, eleison.

Translation

Lord, have mercy on us. Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us

The colour associated with this tender and gentle movement is “orange” – colour of sunset clouds depicting strength and endurance.

The cello introduces the gorgeous melody of the Kyrie (“Kyrie eleison” theme) in minor key, which melody somehow both rises and falls at the same time, as the intervals between the phrases grow during its extent. The solo tenor then takes over the theme and it is then varied between descant and upper voices.

The harmonic progression underpinning the contrasting Christe eleison section echoes the opening of the Largo from Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony (“Going Home”), in my view appropriate for a Requiem.  The “Christe eleison” melody first introduced by the solo tenor is echoed first by the cello and then upper voice choir.

At the reprise of the Kyrie theme in the lower voices, the cello plays the “Theme of a Thousand Sorrows” as a layer against the Kyrie eleison theme. The full choir then introduce a breathtaking variation of the Kyrie theme in C major, but the joy soon gives way to melancholy with the return to the minor key at the close of this short movement. There is a short coda for cello with the “Christe eleison” theme.

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3rd Movement – Dies Irae (colour RED) for solo soprano, solo tenor, solo violin, solo cello and choir

Dies irae, dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla
Teste David cum Sybilla

Quantus tremor est futurus
Quando judex est venturus
Cuncta stricte discussurus

Tuba mirum

Tuba mirum spargens sonum
Per sepulchra regionum
Coget omnes ante thronum

Mors stupebit et natura
Cum resurget creatura
Judicanti responsura

Liber scriptus proferetur
In quo totum continetur
Under mundus judicetur

Judex ergo cum sedebit
Quidquid latet apparebit
Nil inultum remanebit

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus
Cum vix Justus sit secures?

Rex tremendae

Rex tremendae majestatus
Qui salvandos salvas gratis
Salve me, fons pietatis

Recordare, Jesu pie

Recordare, Jesu pie
Quod sum causa tuae viae
Ne me perdas illa die

Quaerens me, sedisti, lassus
Redemisti crucem passus
Tantus labor non sit cassus

Juste Judex ultionis

Juste Judex ultionis
Donum fac remissionis
Ante diem rationis

Ingemisco tanquam reus
Culpa rubet vultus meus
Supplicanti parce Deus

Qui Mariam absolvisti
Et latronem exaudisti
Mihe quoque spem dedisti

Preces meae non sunt dignae
Set tu, bonus, fac benigne
Ne perenni cremer igne

Inter oves locum praesta
Et ab hoedis me sequestra
Statuens in parte dextra

Confutatis maledictis

Confutatis maledictis
Flammis acribus addictis
Voca me cum benedictis

Oro supplex

Oro supplex et acclinis
Cor contritum quasi cinis
Gere curam mei finis

Translation

This day, this day of wrath shall consume the world in ashes, as foretold by David and the Sybil, What trembling there will be when the Judge shall come to weigh everything strictly. The trumpet, scattering its awful sound Across the graves of all lands Summons all before the throne.

 

 

Death and nature shall be stunned, when mankind arises To render account before the judge.

The written book shall be brought, in which all is contained, Whereby the world shall be judged.

When the Judge takes his seat, all that is hidden shall appear, nothing will remain unavenged.

What shall I, a wretch, say then? To which protector shall I appeal, when even the just man is barely safe? King of awful majesty, You freely save those worthy of salvation

Save me, fount of pity

Remember, gentle Jesus, That I am the reason for your time on earth

Do not cast me out on that day, Seeking me, you sank down wearily

You saved me by enduring the cross, Such travail must not be in vain.

Righteous judge of vengeance, Award the gift of forgiveness Before the day of reckoning

I groan as one guilty, My face blushes with guilt, Spare the suppliant, O God.

Thou who didst absolve Mary, And hear the prayer of the thief, Hast given me hope, too.

My prayers are not worthy, But Thou, O good one, show mercy, Lest I burn in everlasting fire.

Give me a place among the sheep, And separate me from the goats, Placing me on Thy right hand.

When the damned are confounded, And consigned to keen flames, Call me with the blessed.

I pray, suppliant and kneeling, A heart as contrite as ashes, Take Thou my ending into Thy care.

The colour associated with this huge, thunderous movement is “red” – colour of fire and blood symbolising love and passion.

The violin introduces a furious theme – “Theme of Wind and Fire” – in the dramatic instrumental opening of the Dies Irae over a falling theme in the bass – “Judgement Theme”. Over these fiery themes, the choir enter with the striking “Dies Irae” (Day of Wrath) theme fortissimo as third layer. This passage serves as a refrain throughout the movement to provide some musical structure to an otherwise lengthy movement comprising multiple sub-movements.

“Quantus tremor” (“What trembling”) is set for choir to haunting chromatics with imitations at “Cuncta stricte discussurus” (“to weigh everything strictly).

After a reprise of the Dies Irae theme in A minor, the “Tuba mirum” opens with contrasting music in major key with a  trumpet tune – the “summons” theme. The “Liber scriptus” leads into a huge climax to the words “unde mundus judicetur” (“the world shall be judged”), repeated for emphasis, a reminder that all are subject to the Judgement of God.”).

“Judex ergo” is set to the music of the opening “Dies irae” deliberately linking the “day of wrath” to “God (the Judge) taking his seat”.

“Rex tremendae majestatis” opens with a striking passage in 7/4 time in E minor, portraying the majesty of God. It leads straight into a solemn fugue of a certain grandeur and nobility for 4 part choir. The sub-movement ends with a highly contrasting passage, at Molto grave tempo, with piercing harmonies ending with a hymn-like plea “salve me” (save me) repeated for emphasis and word-painting for “fons pietatis” to depict a fountain.

The violin introduces the piercingly tender theme of the “Recordare” which is taken up by the solo soprano in echo. The soloists echo each other throughout the sub movement before the choir enter with a particularly poignant passage “Quarens me”.

Juste Judex” for lower voices is set to the music of “Liber scriptus” to reinforce the link to the theme of judgement.

After a tenor recitative “Ingemisco”, the cello has a particularly evocative and haunting solo leading into the prayer-like Qui Mariam” The cello then accompanies both lower and upper voices, a theme depicting leaping lambs occurring at “Inter oves” as further word-painting. The sub movement ends with a repeat of the text “statuens in parte dextra” (place me on thy right hand) for emphasis.

“Confutatis” with its dire message of doom and confoundment is set appropriately enough to the music of the opening “Dies Irae”

The immense Dies irae movement finally ends with quieter, more prayer-like music for “Oro supplex” (“I kneel with submissive heart”). This passage is in fact a variation of the music of the “Requiem aeternam” now set in B minor which builds to a climax for the solo soprano entry with an amazing harmonic progression of unresolved chords before the words “Gere curam” (“Help me in my final condition”).

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4th Movement – Lacrimosa (colour PINK) for solo soprano and solo violin

Lacrimosa dies illa,
Qua resurget ex favilla
Judicandus homo reus

Huic ergo parce, Deus
Pie Jesu Domine
Dona eis requiem. Amen

Translation

That day is one of weeping, On which shall rise again from the ashes, The guilty man, to be judged. Therefore spare this one, O God, Merciful Lord Jesus. Give them rest. Amen

The colour associated with this echo movement is “pink” – colour of lotus and cherry blossom, symbol of caring and compassion.

The violin opens the movement with a sublime melody in an Italian Baroque style – the “lacrimosa” theme – in 6/8 time. This theme serves as a constant refrain throughout the movement, a golden thread, and the violin and soprano alternate with different variations of the melody and startling modulations over a pedal bass. There is something of the wonder of a beautiful Italian baroque church in this music, and the ideal would be to hear it performed in such setting.

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5th Movement – Sanctus and Hosanna (colour PURPLE) for solo soprano and choir

Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus
Dominus Deus Sabaoth
Pleni sunt coeli et terra Gloria tua
Hosanna in excelsis

Translation

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts Heaven and earth are full of your glory Hosanna in the highest.

The colour associated with this movement, another echo movement, is “purple” – colour of heather and pansies, and symbol of devotion and peace.

The melancholic Sanctus is set for solo soprano and choir in B minor in 6/8 time. The choir (representing the angelic host) echoes the solo soprano (angel) throughout.

The joyous and ecstatic Hosanna is set as a magnificent 4 part fugue for full choir in an almost Handelian manner. The contrast with the Sanctus could hardly be greater.

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6th Movement – Benedictus (colour YELLOW) for solo soprano and choir

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domine
Hosanna in excelsis

Translation

Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

The colour associated with this gentle, contemplative movement is “yellow” – colour of sunshine and daffodils and symbol of joy and happiness. It strikes a different mood from much of the rest of the work.

The Benedictus is set for solo soprano in D major with echoing choir.

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7th Movement – Agnus Dei (colour WHITE) for solo tenor, cello and choir

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi dona eis requiem
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem sempiternam

;

Translation

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, Grant them rest. O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, Grant them eternal rest.

The colour associated with this solemn, prayer-like movement is “white” – colour of snow and clouds, and symbol of purity and innocence.

This is a movement of amazing beauty and tenderness which alludes to the piercing music of Bach. It opens with the principal “Agnus Dei” theme in the cello (“Prayer theme”), which is set over a 4 note falling motif in the bass – “Tears of the Heart” set as an ostinato or ground bass in the key of D minor. The solemn “Prayer theme” is then taken up by the solo tenor over the constant tear drops in the bass. The themes are then inverted as the full choir enter, with the upper voices taking up the “Tears of the Heart” theme over the “Prayer” theme in the lower voices and cello.

There follows music of most exquisite tenderness and aching beauty in the cello which is taken up by the soloist to the words “Dona eis requiem” with cello accompaniment. The full choir then take up the plea “Dona eis requiem” to a different music which rises as it were from the depths, with very low notes in the cello, to the heights, with the sopranos reaching top A for the word “requiem”. This passage of piercing harmonies ends on a lush 11th chord of C major with the notes of Bb and D.

The opening music of the “Agnus Dei” returns with a cello instrumental. A new theme “Rainbow” is then heard, which rises and falls in the shape of a rainbow, set against the “Prayer themei” and “Tears of the Heart” theme, in musical layers, the rainbow arch supporting the heavens as it were. The choir then enter over the “Rainbow” theme in the cello, the upper voices repeating the words “Agnus Dei” over the “Prayer theme” sung by lower voices in unison. The themes are then inverted again before a reprise of the tender second section “Dona eis requiem” and a very short cello interlude of just 3 notes in 3/1 time, after the C 11TH chord, very haunting.

The  music returns to the “Prayer theme” in the solo tenor, with the cello playing first “Tears of the Heart” and then the “Rainbow” theme. The movement concludes with an impassioned climax “O Lamb of God” with all themes performed simultaneously, in layers one above another, the upper voices singing the “Tears of the Heart” theme in syncopation with the bass, with the “Rainbow” theme in the cello and the “Prayer theme” in the tenor and solo tenor.

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8th Movement – Pie Jesu (colour GOLD) for solo violin, solo soprano, solo tenor and choir

Pie Jesu, Domine, dona eis requiem
Pie Jesu, Domine, dona eis requiem
Sempiternam

Translation

Merciful Jesus, O Lord, grant them rest, Merciful Jesus, O Lord, grant them eternal rest.

The colour associated with this elevating movement is “gold” – colour of sun and sand and symbol of illumination and perfection.

The movement opens with a violin recapitulation of the Kyrie eleison melody now set in D minor with a more piercing harmonic accompaniment. The text of the Kyrie “Lord have mercy” links perfectly to that of the Pie Jesu “Merciful Jesus.” The contrasting Pie Jesu theme in D major could not be more profound, the structure an echo as it were to the slow movement of Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto which pitches two entirely different subjects against each other before a final resolution. Set for solo tenor, solo soprano, solo violin and choir, this is one of the most sublime moments in the piece.

The Kyrie eleison theme serves as a ritornello throughout, the form of the movement is ABBACCABB. With the return of the opening Pie Jesu there is a magical lift with the change in key to G. There is an exquisite ecstasy when the solo soprano and full choir join for the final affirmation of the Pie Jesu text.

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9th Movement  – Libera Me (colour BLACK) for solo soprano, solo alto, cello and choir

Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna in die illa tremenda
Quando coeli movendi sunt et terra
Dum veneris judicare saeculum per ignem

Tremens factus sum ergo et timeo
Dum discussion venerit atque ventura ira
Quando coeli movendi sunt et terra

Translation

Deliver me, O Lord, from eternal death on that awful day, When the heavens and earth shall be shaken, And you shall come to judge the world by fire. I am seized with fear and trembling Until the trial is at hand, and the wrath to come When the heavens and the earth shall be shaken

The colour associated with this restless, surging movement is “black”– colour of night and shadow, and symbol of death and mourning.

The Libera Me set in the prevailing key of D minor strongly recalls the opening movement, with the “Great Waves of Sadness” theme and “Theme of a Thousand Sorrows” speeded up to reflect the urgency of the plea “Deliver me”. Over these repeating themes is heard a new and different theme – the “Libera Me” theme – which is sung by the choir in various combinations of voices and variations. A frightening and contrasting 2nd subject – Theme of “Eternal Death” – for lower voices interrupts the ceaseless struggle of the Libera Me music at various points during the movement, before the most intense climax of the entire piece. At this point all the various themes unite to defeat the Theme of Eternal Death, the musical layers supporting the “Libera Me” in the upper voices. This music is strongly autobiographical, a vivid memory of my own titanic life and death struggle with the sea at Sandymouth.

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10th Movement – In Paradisum (colour GREEN) for solo soprano, solo tenor and choir

May In paradisum deucant angeli
In tuo adventu suscipiant te martyrus
Et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem

Chorus angelorum te suscipat
Et cum Lazaro, quondam pauper
Aeternam habeas requiem

Translation

May the angels lead you into paradise, At your coming may the martyrs receive you and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem. May chorus of angels receive you and with Lazarus, once poor May you have eternal rest.

The colour associated with the finale is “green” – colour of grass and trees and symbol of harmony and new life.

The final movement, in F major, is an entrancing movement in a wistful, pastoral style – the image is given of trees waving in the wind so the colour green is indeed very vivid in the music. The cello opens the movement with the gorgeous “Qui Mariam” theme from the Dies Irae (a memory to all our mothers) which leads into the choral movement. The flutelike opening “Theme of Paradise” is introduced by the solo soprano over a hypnotic major-minor harmonisation, and repeated by choir, with the tenors singing the more graceful “Garden of Peace” theme as a counterpoint.

The solo tenor enters with a reprise of the solemn theme from the 1st movement (Te decet) before the choir enter with a particularly joyous “Et perducant te”.

The opening refrain is repeated before the solo tenor and choir build up to a very beautiful and heart-warming climax to the words “aeternam habeas requiem” – a positive affirmation of faith.

The Requiem closes with a transformation of the “Garden of Peace” theme as a stirring, uplifting hymn for full choir in the major key.

Jonathan Crow

Munich / Bristol

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