Throughout time, composers have repeatedly been drawn to write music around the rituals and practices of death. This release showcases a comprehensive collection of these works through the ages, from the Gregorian hymns of early Christianity right up to modern laments of the 20th century. The haunting early music is sung by the all-male ensemble Schola Cantorum Karolus Magnus; Schola Cantorum Stuttgart perform Ockeghem’s Missa pro defunctis, while Purcell’s magnificent Funeral Sentences for Queen Mary are performed by the highly acclaimed Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, supported by Baroque Brass of London. The choir also sing Renaissance lamentations on the theme of death, concentrating in particular on standout English composers of the period, including William Byrd and Thomas Tallis.
Following a collection of moving 17th-century funeral music – comprising in particular Schütz’ exquisite Musikalische Exequien, written for the death of Prince Heinrich der Jüngere – the first actual ‘Requiem’ is that of Mozart, written in 1791 and completed by Franz Süssmayr. One of his most performed works, the soaring ‘Lacrimosa’ is astonishing in its beauty and simplicity. Unsettlingly, the work was unfinished at the composer’s death, and it is even said that Mozart believed he was writing it for his own funeral.
The Requiems by Cherubini and Dvořák mark the composers’ deviations from what was fast becoming a standard form: Cherubini asked for women’s voices in his work, leading to the composition being banned in 1834, and Dvorák moved the established text around, inserting a beautifully introspective Pie Jesu movement between the Sanctus and Agnus Dei, featuring the soloists without the choir.
Moving even further away from the traditional setting, Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem is unusual for featuring a German-language text rather than Latin. Brahms stated that the ‘deutsches’ in the title did not refer to the intended audience but the language, and that he would gladly have called it ‘menschliches’: ‘A human Requiem’. This release features acclaimed singers Anna Tomowa-Sintow and Günther Leib in an historic recording from 1973.
Two of the most famous Requiems also feature on this release, those of Fauré and Verdi. The stormy Dies Irae from Verdi’s Requiem marks a contrast to Fauré’s transcendent Sanctus, with its stripped back harp and string figure. Lesser known Requiems from this period also feature, with Schumann’s masterful work, inspired by his interest in mysticism, and Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts, with its vast orchestration including four offstage brass groups, performed here by the Utah Symphony Orchestra with Maurice Abravanel at the helm.
Several composers of the 20th century were inspired to write their own Requiems, including Pizzetti, Howells and Puccini; all three of these smaller works are performed by the Camerata Vocale Freiburg, showcasing the composers’ knack for intimacy, taking inspiration at times from Gregorian tradition. The release finishes with one of the finest works of the 20th century: Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, composed to commemorate the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral, destroyed in the Second World War, and using excerpts from Wilfred Owen’s poetry of the First. It is accompanied on this recording by Penderecki’s Threnody, written in memory of the victims of Hiroshima, and Berg’s Violin Concerto, a superb lamentation for the dead without words.
This unique box set brings together the most important and well known Requiems and liturgical music for the dead, spanning a near 1000 years. Starting with the Gregorian Chant we move to the Renaissance with a Requiem by Ockeghem, through works by Desprez, Palestrina, Purcell, and Praetorius we arrive at the most “popular” requiem ever written, by Mozart. Following are Requiems by Schumann, Cherubini, Dvořák, Berlioz, Brahms, Fauré, Duruflé, Verdi, Puccini, Howells, Pizzetti and Britten.