Saturday, August 29, 2015

Saint-Saëns - Requiem Opus 54

The text of the Catholic Requiem Mass began to be sung to music as far back as the 9th century when Gregorian chant melodies which were monophonic were used.  The earliest surviving polyphonic Requiem is from the 15th century. Early Requiems used various texts until the Council of Trent in the 16th century set the texts that were to be used in the services of the Church.  There is an amount of freedom of choice within the allowed texts to be used in the Requiem, so many of the later Requiems have differing combinations of text.

The dramatic nature of the text has attracted many composers, with some Requiems being more suited to the concert hall than a church. Verdi's Requiem is an example of a highly dramatic setting of the text and has been criticized for being more like an unstaged opera than a Requiem.  In contrast, Saint-Saëns Requiem was intended for use in a church service. He kept the length of the work to a little over 30 minutes, a short time for a Romantic era Requiem.

He wrote the Requiem for Albert Libon, a friend and patron that had died a year earlier. Originally Libon included in his will 100,000 francs to Saint-Saëns with the intent to allow the composer to quit his position as church organist and devote his time to composition with the stipulation that Saint-Saëns compose a Requiem in his honor to be performed a year after his death. Before he died, Libon removed that stipulation. Saint-Saëns received the 100,000 francs upon Libon's death but felt compelled to write a Requiem to honor his friend anyway. He traveled to Switzerland in April of 1878 and while staying in a hotel he wrote the Requiem in a mere eight days. He wrote to his publisher, "Fear not, this Requiem will be very short. I’m not just working hard, I’m working flat out!"

Saint-Saëns wrote a Requiem that is not free of drama, but the drama is more subdued. The writing for orchestra and organ is lyrically powerful, and he has written music for the chorus and soloists that shows his mastery of writing for the voice. A recurring motive in the work is the chromatic 'sighing' that can especially be heard in the fourth movement.  In later life Saint-Saëns turned from a total religious believer to an absolute non-believer, but he respected the tradition of the church and continued to write religious music for the rest of his life.

I. Kyrie
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
You shall have praise, O God, in Zion,
and a prayer shall go up for you in Jerusalem.
All flesh shall come before you.
Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

II. Dies irae
This day, this day of wrath
shall consume the world in ashes,
as foretold by David and the Sybil.
What fear there shall be,
when the judge shall come
to weigh everything severely.
The trumpet, casting its wondrous sound
across the graves of all lands,
summons all before the throne.
Death and nature shall be astounded
when mankind arises
to give account before the judge.
The written book shall be brought
in which all is recorded
whereby the world shall be judged.
When the judge takes his seat
all that is concealed shall appear,
nothing shall remain unavenged.
What shall I, a frail man, say then?
To which protector shall I appeal
when even the just man is scarcely safe?

III. Rex tremendae
King of awful majesty,
who freely saves those worthy of salvation,
save me, fount of mercy.
Remember, gentle Jesus,
that I am the reason for your earthly life,
do not cast me out on that day.
Seeking me, you sank down wearily,
you have 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, like the sinner that ?I am,
guilt reddens my face:
spare the supplicant, O God.
You, who pardoned Mary
and heeded the thief,
have given me hope as well.
My prayers are unworthy,
but you, who are good, in pity,
do not let me burn in the eternal fire.
Give me a place among the sheep
and separate me from the goats,
let me stand at your right hand.
When the damned are cast away,
and consigned to the searing flames,
call me to be with the blessed.

IV. Oro supplex
Bowed down in supplication I beg you,
my heart as though ground to ashes,
help me in my final hour.
This day of tears
when from the ashes arises
guilty man to be judged:
have mercy upon him, O Lord,
Gentle Lord Jesus,
grant him rest.
Amen.

V. Hostias
We offer to you in praise, O Lord,
sacrifices and prayers:
accept them on behalf of those souls
whom we remember this day:
Lord, make them pass
from death to life,
as once you promised Abraham
and to his seed.

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

VII. Benedictus
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.

VIII. Agnus Dei
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the
world, grant them rest.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the
world, grant them rest.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the
world, grant them eternal rest.
Amen.

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