Culture: Three Requiems - Mozart, Verdi and Faure



Last night, I heard the Faure Requiem as part of the Good Friday service at the Hollywood Presbyterian Church. The program started with their choir singing the Faure Requiem backed by the organ. The second half was a dramatization of the life of Jesus with particular attention to the perspectives from Judas and Peter.

The service ended with the actor who played Peter singing about Christ and the Cross and when he finished, he blew out his candle and all the congregants left the sanctuary in darkness. A very moving experience.

This year, I have heard three different requiems.

I heard the Los Angeles Philharmonic perform the famed Mozart Requiem. I blogged about it previously.

If you want to know more about the many versions of the Mozart Requiem, be sure to check out this list at Amazon.com.

Little did I realize that there are many Requiems by many composers as described in this Amazon list.

I also heard the Verdi Requiem performed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

The three requiems could not be more different.

The Verdi version is operatic and big and booming. Verdi revisted the Dies Illa, Dies Irae theme several times in his rendition including near the end. Mozart visited that theme early and it is indeed spooky but it doesn't have the volitile and explosive force of Verdi's. Interestingly, Faure visits the Dies illa, dies irae idea only briefly and within the context of his Libera Me section.

This musically untrained listener gets the feeling each composer had a very different intent on how his music was to represent human reaction to the inevitability of death and judgement before God.

Verdi's loud and over-the-top Requiem gave me the feeling he was trying to communicate the terrors of death and that death is to be resisted tooth and nail and entered with a shaking fist all the while kicking and screaming.

Mozart's version has its terrors but it also has soothing elements. Afterall, the concept of the requiem mass is "requiem aeternam dona eis, domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis." In English: Eternal rest grant them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. Thus, Mozart's version has both the fears of death but also the peace that faith affords. My feeling is that Mozart describes the sad but peaceful resignation to the reality and inevitability of death.

Faure's edition is very soothing. I'd go so far as to say he seeks to present a pleasant and peaceful acceptance and welcoming of death. There are only short moments of the terror and fear as reflected by the Dies illa, dies irae. My sense of its mood is that Faure wanted the listener not to be afraid. He didn't want merely a peace of resignation but might I dare say, a peace of welcoming the transition to the next?

Faure chose to end with the In Paradisum text:
In paradisum deducant te angeli,
in tuo adventu
suscipiant te martyres,
et perducant te
in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.
Chorus angelorum te suscipiat,
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere
aeternam habeas requiem.

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

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