NOTES by Phillip Kloeckner, D.M.A
Coming immediately to mind while first experiencing Art Gottschalk’s Requiem: For the Living is the question of why such an inspiration took so long to manifest itself.
Using the traditional Latin text from the Mass for the Dead (Missa pro defunctis) as his point of departure, Gottschalk has crafted a monumental commentary on life and how those of us still on this side of the veil can most authentically live our lives in the present while re-evaluating and reinterpreting many facets of death and the afterlife.
Unlike all other Requiems that have come before, which have been written in memory of the departed, in the present work Gottschalk has created a masterful work of art that is a blueprint for the living of noble lives, here and now. The means by which he has created this intriguing work and its message are as varied and colorful as the styles of the Western musical tradition and the texts that he employs to illustrate his unique interpretations of the liturgical poetry.
Seven of the eight movements feature the interpolation of a supplemental sacred or secular text. Furthermore, Gottschalk utilizes a distinct musical style in each movement that enhances and facilitates an understanding of his impression of that particular liturgical text. It is the juxtaposition of the traditional Latin poetry with the interpolated (troped) texts, in addition to the provocative pairing of musical styles with these texts, that create the dramatic and emotional impact of the work. These dichotomies invite and urge the listener to a profound philosophical consideration of how we live and how we die.
Requiem: For the Living was born in the immediate aftermath of the tragedies of 9/11, not in any way as a memorial to those who lost their lives, but in response to the composer’s deep sense that the zeitgeist of the U. S. culture had just shifted. Gottschalk became restless during that time and began to examine numerous texts for their capacity to convey the imperatives of tolerance in matters of race, culture, and faith. For more than a year, he applied himself to the creation of a musical testament that ultimately celebrates our common humanity and engenders in the listener a respect for the many ways in which we as individuals uniquely express that humanity. Far from a self-conscious multicultural statement, Gottschalk combines such a wide variety of texts and musical styles from such disparate sources as the only and ultimate means of adequately illustrating the varieties and textures of our common diversity. After completing his Requiem in the first few years of the new millennium, Gottschalk retired the completed score to an out-of-the-way shelf where it lay for more than a decade, certain that the time for his rare commentary on the present life through the principal vehicle of the Requiem had not yet come. Only a casual inquiry from a colleague in 2012 caused him to reconsider preparing the manuscript for publication and recording.
At the core of Requiem: For the Living is a spiritual recognition and celebration that “…there is no language that God cannot understand.” This celebratory impulse infuses the entire Requiem, from the most subtle and wry expressive details to the extroverted jubilation of the Sanctus. In Gottschalk’s music, there is no distinction between the secular and the sacred. For him, all music, and the humanity from which it comes, is sacred in the most profound and joyful ways.
Distinguished by refined orchestrations, naturally idiomatic writing for both instruments and voices, and nuanced balancing of forms and proportions, Requiem: For the Living is an inspired creation that encourages us to accept our place in the universe and to value every human life regardless of its origins.
INTROIT – YIZKOR – KYRIE
An arresting orchestral flourish of just one measure introduces the unexpectedly desperate plea of the chorus: Grant them eternal rest…. This urgent litany of tragic disbelief, as if the news of someone’s passing has just been received, is followed by the Cantor’s equally impassioned rendition of the traditional Hebrew memorial prayer for the dead (Yizkor). The improvisatory supplication concludes with the acceptance and resignation of the loss being mourned through a stunning falsetto amen. The choir’s plea returns at this juncture with a complete presentation of the introductory Latin text. To balance the previous presentation of the heartfelt Yizkor, we are treated to a Kyrie eleison, the traditional prayer for mercy, rendered in elegant Renaissance counterpoint.
DIES IRAE – NIGHT OF POWER – REX TREMENDAE
As the only movement in Requiem: For the living that directly quotes pre-existing material, the Dies irae is a tightly crafted alternation between brutally forceful, fragmented repetitions of the theme of the chant and the lyrically flowing rendition of Chapter 2 (sūrat l-baqarah), verse 62, in the Qur’an. As is the case with all but the last two movements, the soloists are given the troped text, which in this instance supplies an answer to the question posed for centuries in the middle of the long verses of condemnation and judgment in this sequence: “To which protector shall I appeal when even the just man is barely safe?” The second half of the Dies irae is a petition for mercy, accompanied by the same lacerating string figurations and relentlessly unforgiving percussion effects that are utilized in the first portion of this movement. This petition ends with the Pie Jesu, accompanied by the dulcet strings that had earlier accompanied the verse from the Qur’an. The implications of this cross-reference are sobering and provocative.
OFFERTORIUM – BUDDHA – CANZONAS
The rhythm and style of renaissance instrumental canzonas are employed as a unifying element throughout the Offertory. The wisdom of the Buddha is delivered line-by-line, in alternation with the Latin text, just as the instrumental parts enter imitatively, one line at a time. The soprano soloist and chorus ascend higher and higher in their respective ranges as each line of the ancient wisdom is, culminating the transformation from “thought” into “character” on a high B. At this juncture, (Quam olim Abrahae promisisti) other musical transformations occur. Where the chorus had been singing in broad, lush homophony, it now takes up the imitative canzona theme that had been, at first, given to the oboe, English horn, and trombones (an orchestration that recalls the shawms and sackbuts associated with the original form). Furthermore, as the final Buddhic admonition concerning the nature of the individual’s character is delivered, (“so watch the thought...born out of respect for all beings”) the soloist and chorus exchange accompanimental styles and orchestrations as an indication that the wisdom has been received and internalized.
SANCTUS – ELLINGTON – BENEDICTUS – HOSANNA
By means of its brevity alone, the Sanctus highlights the delivery of the pivotal message of this Requiem and the composer’s expressive intentions for this work. “…there is no language that God cannot understand” is emphasized in several other ways: by reserving its declamation for the lone baritone solo of the composition, by its pairing with the Sanctus (the text of sanctification and dedication which precedes consecration in the Mass), and by supplying the unbridled exuberance of the Hosanna in response to Duke Ellington’s deeply held conviction about the nature of the Divine.
GEORGE ELIOT – AGNUS DEI
Extending the variety of formats and configurations in the Requiem, the troped, supplemental text in this movement is presented at the beginning of the movement. In the three statements of the Agnus dei (Lamb of God) that follow, the dramatic climax of the Requiem is approached and achieved through successively adding instruments and increasing volume.
LUX AETERNA – MOHAMMAD
The sixth movement presents a unique pairing of Muhammad’s prayer for light with the Christian invocation for eternal light on behalf of the departed. The sense of both texts are remarkably similar: the desire and yearning for illumination and enlightenment. A minimalist choral texture (static, and therefore timeless; and by inference, eternal) is the vehicle for the Latin prayer.
GOSPEL – SPIRITUAL – LIBERA ME
The juxtaposition of two distinctive American folk idioms, Bluegrass Gospel and Blues Spiritual, create a distinctive contrast that offer a refreshing commentary on this responsory at the end of the mass for the departed. With the work of the soloists completed in the previous movement, the chorus presents both the liturgical poetry and spiritual. The exuberance of the Bluegrass style in this context suggests that the need for mercy and the impending judgment need not be feared, if not that the judgment and the end of life are to be welcomed and celebrated. And to follow this with the deeply comforting and contrasting words of the spiritual fundamentally alters the figurative dynamic of the passage from life to death and imagines a journey that is not undertaken alone, a journey that is not resisted, but shared. It is also in the Libera me that we experience the emotional apex of the work: in the grand pause following “…day of wrath, calamity, and misery…” With just over a minute left to go in the movement, this grand silence releases the accumulated energy, momentum, and emotion of what come before. It represents that moment of transition between life and death, the long-sought-after liberation from physical form.
FANFARE – IN PARADISUM
The final movement summarizes the essence of the entire work. This was the first movement of the eight that Gottschalk composed, and it illustrates his refreshing logic and approach to assembling this large-scale work. There is no interpolated text in this eighth movement, as there has been in each of the preceding movements, but rather, the expansive and stirring orchestral fanfare that opens the movement serves as the trope: a triumphant twist on the final entry into the afterlife. Where tradition suggests we might expect arpeggiating harps, muted strings, and ethereal ways of evoking the heavenly realm, we are treated to a robust and affirming accompaniment on our way into paradise. Assuming a life lived honorably and with respect for one another, why not make a bold approach into the Promised Land? His iconoclastic interpretation of this part of the Requiem text typifies Gottschalk’s stimulating and provocative ability to communicate more with music than could ever be expressed through words alone.
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