Year of composition
4 soloists (SATB), mixed choir, large organ and orchestra:
2 2 2 2 - 4 3 3 1 - timp. - perc.(5) - harpsichord - strings
I. Introitus - II. Kyrie - III. Dies irae - IV. Offertorium - V. Sanctus -
VI. Agnus Dei - VII. In Paradisum - VIII. Lux aeterna
From this ‘Agnus Dei’ for alto and organ (5')
For many years I knew that one day I would write a Requiem. It was a sort of private conviction, without knowing when or how this vague premonition would take place. About four or five years ago my friend J.-Claude Piguet came very close to this idea, in a way putting pressure on my conscience to do it. But here I felt a strong inner resistance; I did not feel ready for such a task. But the idea continued to develop and I imagined various possible forms, some of which seemed preposterous and scarcely relating to the risky attempt that I envisioned once: a Requiem with a jazz orchestra. And then, one day, I began, not that I felt ready for it. Can one ever be ready for such a task? But in January 1971 I went on a Mediterranean trip where I was able to contemplate all alone in Saint Marc’s Church in Venice, the Cathedral of Monreale in Palermo and the Greek temples of Paestum near Naples. These three monuments, which express the sentiments of the adoration so completely, awakened in me a desire to build in my turn, using my limited means, a temple devoted to the adoration.
The problems which had bothered me just disappeared and I started to envisage the Requiem. After many alternatives, I decided on a standard ensemble: a large mixed choir, a quartet of vocal soloists, an orchestra and an organ. The assurance of counting on the participation of the wonderful Union Chorale conducted by Robert Mermond certainly influenced my choice for this solution. As for the organ, I had three experiences already of combining this compound instrument with an orchestra: first in Golgotha, then in my cantata Pseaumes, and again in a symphonic work in memory of Erasmus entitled Erasmi Monumentum. It was in this piece especially that I was able to appreciate the extra dimension given to the symphony orchestra by an organ used as an independent element, both as soloist and as part of the resonant ensemble. In the Requiem the organ is as important as the orchestra; in one part, the Agnus Dei, the organ alone is in dialogue with the alto solo.
What can I say now about this Requiem? First of all, I chose to give priority to the liturgical text, which made me reduce the contrapuntal aspect considerably. I only used this when the text was evident and repeated, for example, in the Kyrie and Sanctus. Almost everywhere else the liturgical text is stated only once, by a soloist or a group. Sometimes this is a form of recitative but most often it is an essentially melodic rendition. Often these melodic lines are not harmonised but are supported by a chord or a complex sonority which only changes with each sentence. This does not mean taking a stand; it is only one of various styles of writing.
However, all this is only technical deliberation. You don’t write a Requiem to show off your know-how and if Mozart could say about his: “I have put all my knowledge into this”, we understand that he only said it because he had given far more than that. What I have tried to express here is the clear desire to accept death, to be at peace with it, to be fully aware of all that it entails in anguish, both physical and mental, to confront us head-on with all that our life has been, hardly befitting what it could have been, so full of weaknesses and failures; but also to consider it in full confidence of mercy, expecting true rest, eternal rest. What I have tried to express here is not an image of the description of this rest, but a passionate prayer to acquire it by the grace of God. With the wealth of this liturgical text that evokes time after time the expectation of rest, supplication, pure adoration or anguish of the last judgement, I related fully, in spite of all which, intellectually speaking, could alienate us. These images from the Middle Ages communicated directly with my deepest thoughts. This thought which no language can express explicitly, but it is this thought of death that I have tried to put into my music. Would that this feeling of confidence and peace, which has stimulated me during this work, could be generated to others.
In: Sleeve of Jecklin recording, published by the Frank Martin Society (reserved for members only).
World premiere, Lausanne, 4 May 1973. Elisabeth Speiser, soprano; Ria Bollen, alto; Eric Tappy, tenor; Peter Lagger, bass; Frank Martin, conductor
Recordings (selective list)
Christine Esser, soprano; Verena Barbara Gohl, alto; Bernhard Scheffel, tenor; Martin Bruns, baritone
Capella Cantorum Konstanz, Collegium Vocale Zürich
Bernhard Billeter, organ; Gottfried Bach, harpsichord; Alain Girard, oboe d’amore
Musicuria and wind ensemble of the Basel Sinfonietta
Klaus Knall, conductor
Musikszene Schweiz MGB CD 6183 © + ℗ 2001 (FMS188)
Christoph Bantzer, speaker; Katherina Müller, soprano; Kaja Plessing, alto; Michael Connaire, Tenor; Stefan Adam, bass
Kantorei St. Nikolai Hamburg
Matthias Hoffmann-Borggrefe, conductor
TROUBADISC TRO-CD 01441 © + ℗ 2012 (FMS083)
Elisabeth Speiser, soprano; Ria Bollen, alto; Eric Tappy, tenor; Peter Lagger, bass
Union Chorale and choir of the ladies of Lausanne
Vocal group ‘Ars Laeta’
André Luy, organ
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Ernest Ansermet, conductor
Recording of the first performance on May, 1973, public concert
Jecklin-Disco JD 631-2 © + ℗ 1989 (FMS105)
Agnus Dei for alto and organ
Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano
Bengt Forsberg, organ
BIS ℗ + © 2018