Any cool anecdotes about requiems?
March 19, 2019 8:32 AM   Subscribe

I'm beginning the final chapter of a novel, and I'd like to begin with an anecdote about requiems in the Catholic mass.

The narrative will then segue into a character listening to Faure's Requiem on vinyl in the attic of his childhood home. I'm not exactly sure what I'm looking for, but maybe some bit of liturgical controversy over what's acceptable in church music, maybe something about the blurring of lines between sacred and secular music? Bonus points if the story involves violence. Extra bonus points if there's an elegant way of tying in Faure.
posted by jwhite1979 to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This isn't about a requiem, but the story of Carlo Gesualdo? He was studying to be a Catholic priest when his older brother died. He was then forced by his family to quit trying to be a priest as he now had to carry on the family line, which he was not interested in doing. He was married to a young and beautiful woman who was also apparently a sex addict of sorts. He caught her having sex with another man and he murdered them both in bed, going back in a second time to stab them some more for good measure. He then went on the compose the most progressive and experimental music of his day, both Catholic tenebrae and secular madrigals, but was largely forgotten as a composer.

Of course there's the whole story about Mozart's requiem and his own death during it and the controversy of students finishing it and all of that.

Leonard Bernstein's Mass was hugely controversial during its time, so much so that a president refused to attend a performance and Bernstein was investigated by the FBI,
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:02 AM on March 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Hans von Bulow referred to Verdi's Requiem as "an opera in a cassock," summarizing the long-standing critique that the piece is too secular.
posted by praemunire at 9:19 AM on March 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

You might be able to mine this Motu Propio from Pope Pius X, which specifically set out the guidelines for liturgical music vis-a-vis the secular world:
...Still, since modern music has risen mainly to serve profane uses, greater care must be taken with regard to it, in order that the musical compositions of modern style which are admitted in the Church may contain nothing profane, be free from reminiscences of motifs adopted in the theaters, and be not fashioned even in their external forms after the manner of profane pieces.

Among the different kinds of modern music, that which appears less suitable for accompanying the functions of public worship is the theatrical style, which was in the greatest vogue, especially in Italy, during the last century. This of its very nature is diametrically opposed to Gregorian Chant and classic polyphony, and therefore to the most important law of all good sacred music. Besides the intrinsic structure, the rhythm and what is known as the conventionalism of this style adapt themselves but badly to the requirements of true liturgical music.
Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) wrote a bit about the motu propio here, and there's a short overview on wikipedia as well. No violence ensued, as far as I can tell.

Motu propio means "on his own," and describes a short, focused instruction from the Pope on organizational/liturgical matters. More recently, the Mass of the Americas was completed and premiered in California, with this bit of rationale from the Archbishop:
But the Archbishop – known as one of America’s more theologically and liturgically conservative prelates – is only too aware of the dangers of blending secular forms into the Mass. This has been a problem in California, where mariachi music is sometimes haphazardly incorporated into the liturgy. “It’s beautiful but profane music,” says Archbishop Cordileone.

“It can’t be transferred wholesale into the Mass but there’s a way to take elements of it and sacralise it within the sacred tradition.”
posted by jquinby at 9:57 AM on March 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've read that Schnittke's Requiem was composed at a time when sacred music was still out of favour in the Soviet Union, and that he wrote it -- a full Requiem-- disguised as the incidental music for a period drama.

I believe Schnittke was heavily inspired by his conversion to Christianity later in life, though played it down publically. Kind of the opposite of Faure who, iirc, seemed not very bothered about religion unless it benefited him to be.

Is Schnittke's Requiem more 'sincere' somehow than Faure's, even if they both would have acted otherwise? No idea! I'd rather listen to Faure myself, regardless of intent.
posted by rollick at 11:55 AM on March 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

A bit of trivia: The voices chanting in every scene with the Monolith except for the last in 2001 is from a requiem.

Always interested in hearing that one in full. Too late now. :(
posted by Fukiyama at 12:22 PM on March 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Having just finished singing the Faure myself, I find it notable that it is more of an aspiration or hope for an eternal rest, rather than so heavy on the judgment and damnation. Might be worth exploring?

More broadly, I also think of the fact that many requiem composers wrote brilliant soprano and mezzo soprano solos that were not allowed to be performed by women in the church for many years. Maybe something there? Faure and other composers vastly preferred to use female singers for these roles but could only do that in secular settings.
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:57 PM on March 19, 2019

Although a requiem is nominally music for a funeral, it has become a musical form in the same way that a symphony or a concerto is a form. As such, it draws the interest of non-Christians. All requiems do not have the same parts.
posted by SemiSalt at 2:53 PM on March 19, 2019

This is reaching, and may not be useful for you...but depending on how you are tying it all together a composer that might interest you would be Paul Hindemith. He was a pretty pivotal figure in 20th century music, with a somewhat conflicted history concerning the rise of racism in Germany, as well as a completely different way of looking at musical theory.
He has two works that are Requiem-ish (though not in the strict Catholic Mass sense).
He wrote one entitled Trauermusik (mentioned in this article) which he wrote in a single day after the death of King George V.
One of his lesser-performed works is his setting of Walt Whitman's When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd, which was written as a tribute to Lincoln.
posted by aloiv2 at 6:55 PM on March 19, 2019

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