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Requiem & Royalty: Program Notes

Join us Saturday, April 13, 2024 for Requiem and Royalty

John Rutter’s Requiem, completed in 1985, does not adhere strictly to the

conventional Catholic liturgy, but combines texts from the Requiem Mass and

the Book of Common Prayer. This is by no means unusual; Fauré, Brahms and

Duruflé all followed their own individual preferences when selecting appropriate

verses to set.

The first movement comprises the Requiem Aeternam and Kyrie Eleison. This is

followed by a setting of Psalm 130, ‘Out of the deep have I called unto thee O

Lord’ which begins darkly with an unaccompanied cello solo in C minor, later

giving way to a more positive C major at the words ‘for with the Lord there is

mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption’. 

As with the Requiems of both Fauré and Duruflé, the Pie Jesu focuses on the soprano soloist, though in this case with the addition of a subdued choral commentary. The Sanctus and Benedictus are both followed by an exhilarating Hosanna. In the Agnus Dei, the

Latin text alternates with verses from the Burial Sentences, taken from the 1662

Book of Common Prayer. At this point Rutter inserts his superb setting of the

23rd Psalm, notable for its plaintive oboe solo, delicate orchestration and

sensitivity to the text. This exquisite and moving piece, though composed some

seven years earlier for Mel Olson’s First United Methodist Church Choir in

Omaha, was surely destined for this context, encapsulating as it does the work’s

message of reassurance. 

The last movement opens with another verse from the Burial Service, sung by the soprano soloist, which leads seamlessly into the Lux Aeterna, finally returning to the opening Requiem Aeterna theme for the peaceful conclusion.

The Requiem was first performed in its entirety on 13 October 1985 at the United

Methodist Church, Dallas, Texas, conducted by the composer. Since then it has

become a firm favorite with choirs and audiences the world over. Though it

necessarily has its dark moments, Rutter’s Requiem is unmistakably optimistic in

its message of hope and comfort, expressed through the beauty of the chosen

texts and Rutter’s uplifting music. It is not entirely surprising that after the tragic

events of 9/11, it was this setting of the Requiem that was the preferred choice of

music at the many memorial services which followed across the USA.

-- John Bawden

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