Verdi Requiem- October 2010 by Ugo Rivera

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Twice in the last few years our choir has sung major requiems very soon after the deaths of significant persons in my life.  We sang the Mozart requiem under the baton of Richard Cock just a few weeks after the death of my father and now we sang Verdi’s one quite soon after my mother-in- law’s death.  So I started thinking about the concept of requiems in general.

What is it about requiem masses that inspire composers to write such extraordinary music?  I suppose it is the inevitability of death which faces all of us but which elicits such different emotions in each of us.  I think of some of the better known ones in the classical music repertoire: Mozart’s magnificent but incomplete masterpiece – he must have been facing the reality of his own mortality while writing it – Faure’s gentle and beautiful work – without knowing anything about him or his beliefs one can only assume that he had a solid faith in an after-life “in Paradisum” – Brahms’ eloquent and beautiful “Deutsche Requiem” would make one believe the same about him if one did not know that he had a rather unconventional emotional make-up, and there are so many others, each expressing the composer’s own feelings about death?

And of course there is Verdi’s dramatic and operatic offering. He really knew how to wring every last drop of emotion out of anything he tackled!  Was he really so desperately afraid of the “dies irae” of the last judgement or was he just exploiting the musical possibilities of the idea and of humankind’s fears?

I have sung it only twice in performances; the first some years ago together with the Philharmonia Choir and the London Bach Choir under the baton of Sir David Willcocks, in the dreadful acoustics of that hot cross bun, the Good Hope Centre and this more recent performance again with the Philharmonia under Yampolsky.

It is a wonderful piece to sing and extremely rewarding and also such fun!  Should it be? Did Verdi really mean us to enjoy ourselves?  He is trying so hard to make us quiver and quake about the dreaded day of reckoning and we are having fun? It is a requiem after all, but perhaps it is really another of his operas and operas are not really real are they?

And then I think of some of the really dreadfully boring funerals I have attended.  After each one I think to myself, “whatever you do, please let me not inflict such a trial on my friends when it is my turn”.  Why on earth would I want to have a stream of people standing up and trying hard to convince others that I was so much better a person than I really was when one could rather reward them with a beautiful piece of music, and good glass of wine?  So, Symphony Choir, you know what my desires are.  Keep it in mind please!  I guess I will just have to make sure that the estate will be able to cover the costs!

Ugo Rivera

23 October 2010