Getting Inside Me – Requiem Mass: Introduction and First Movement Structure

Yes, the double entendre was entirely intentional.

Also, for those who are wondering, that bit of music would be from George Crumb’s Makrokosmos I, specifically Part I, VIII. It’s beautiful.

Well, I decided to do something new on Dr. Theory Slap’d. In all the time I’ve written for DTS, all I’ve written about has been the theory of music, or alluding to analyses of music already written. I have not actually written about composition or the processes thereof, which is what I’m deciding to do with one of my major works that is going into the composition process.

The subject of this *possible* series is going to be my Requiem Mass, which will hopefully receive its debut in early spring of 2018, and thankfully, I don’t need to play catch up for it; I’ve only really decided the texts and movement divisions that I’m going to use, as well as a general feeling and instrumentation of each of the movements. Furthermore, the Requiem will only require the use of a chamber orchestra along with a solo string quartet, as well as a double choir (SSAATTBB). That’s right; no brass, winds, or percussion.

Now, for the macrostructure, I wanted to attempt something new. The Requiem is divided into a total of nine movements, using the following texts:

I – Introit
II – Kyrie
III – Tract
IV – Dies Irae
V – Sanctus
VI – Agnus Dei
VII – Pie Jesu
VIII – In Paradisum
IX – Lux Æterna

This, by itself, is nothing new, though I am using some more obscure texts from the Requiem Mass along with some more commonly used ones. The new part is how I wanted to divide these into distinct sections. While each of the nine movements will have their own character, I created four larger sections, which I will call “macromovements,” that will divide the nine movements into four distinct sections, and I’ll probably name them in the future. For now, they have the temporary names “The Encroaching Darkness,” “The Consuming Terror,” “The Deafening Silence,” and “The Ascension and Annihilation.” These four macromovements will be divided into the following ways:

Macro 1 – The Encroaching Darkness

  • I – Introit
  • II – Kyrie
  • III – Tract

Macro 2 – The Consuming Terror

  • IV – Dies Irae
  • V – Sanctus

Macro 3 – The Deafening Silence

  • VI – Agnus Dei
  • VII – Pie Jesu

Macro 4 – The Ascension and Annihilation

  • VIII – In Paradisum
  • IX – Lux Æterna

That covers overall structure rather neatly. As I write movements, I will have posts explaining my process for their construction.

The premise of a Requiem Mass is to honor the dead and pray for their safe passing and restful life in the afterlife, and due to the fact that Requiems are Christian in origin, they are generally Heaven-related. If my overall language, or appearance for those who know me, didn’t give it away seconds into reading any of these, I’m not a Christian. I’m effectively pulling a Rutter, though I’m not an atheist either. Close enough though.

Before anybody asks who died, I’ll clarify this as succinctly as I can; nobody died, as far as I’m aware. Actually, I rather like the way I explain this bit in the currently-existing program notes at the introduction of the score.

This Requiem is composed for the souls on this Earth who were destroyed by the tumultuous winds of mental instability and suicide. These souls largely feel lost and empty, with nobody to turn to, and thus, feel that they cannot receive aid from the world around them. Therefore, I have decided to compose this piece in their memory so that their memory can be sustained. While I accept that they are free from the pain they experienced here on Earth, I must also admit that their loss is a pain that cannot be forgotten. To achieve this end, I have decided to forgo the generally major keys of most of the segments of a traditional Requiem Mass in favor of much darker tonalities, with the exception of the Eighth Movement, “In Paradisum.” This is to achieve a dark irony and convoluted meanings, much like what happens in the minds of people with these mental illnesses. It is my hope that I can bring a different level of understanding to those who suffer, and maybe give them the hope that they are not forgotten and that their absence will be more painful than they may realize, as well as bring a modicum of understanding to the people who do not suffer in such ways. Furthermore, I push for those who have experienced this loss to take comfort that their memory is not lost and that it will continue to thrive in this work.

So yeah, some pretty dark stuff at play here. I think it accurately conveys what I’m trying to convey in this Requiem. A part of this due to people around me being surrounded by people who are slightly ravaged by such issues. And for those who are, and are reading this, know that you are not forgotten and that I do genuinely care about your safety and well-being, even if I’m terrible at showing it. With that out of the way, let’s dive into the meat; movement one, the Introit.

I – Introit
So, the Introit. For this movement, I decided to forgo the strings entirely and have them wait their damn turn for glory. As I’ve planned it so far, I want to show a distinct contrast with a movement later in the mass, specifically the Agnus Dei. This movement will be entirely acapella, and it will be mostly-male driven, whereas the Agnus Dei will be female-driven, if not female-exclusive. This is to allude to and counter a specific feeling, the feeling of wanting to return to innocence. The men will drive the counter to this, the impending growth, however painful it may be, and the women will drive the return in the Agnus Dei. The text of the movement is as follows:

Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Te decet hymnus Deus, in Sion,
et tibi reddetur votum in Ierusalem.

Exaudi orationem meam;
ad te omnis caro veniet.
Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

To further drive the difference in maturity and innocence home, I specifically decided to use a contrast in the Introit and the Agnus Dei due to lyrical differences. The Introit is a bit wordier and uses a fairly high number of unique words. This contrasts the Agnus Dei that uses a repetition of three lines of text, with a single word difference between all three, symbolic of a single-minded drive to escape the pain of loss. Furthermore, the textual difference in the Introit and the Agnus Dei is overwhelmingly clear. To elaborate on the difference, I’ll go through the translations of both movements.

I – Introit
Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
A hymn, O God, becometh Thee in Sion;
and a vow shall be paid to Thee in Jerusalem:
hear my prayer;
all flesh shall come to Thee.
Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.

VI – Agnus Dei
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, grant them rest.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, grant them rest.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, grant them eternal rest.

Here, we can see a notable difference in the tone of either movement. The Introit is a relatively simple prayer-like form, focused around the well-being and rest of those who are dearly departed. While this theme is also present in the Agnus Dei, it is far more single-minded in the Agnus Dei, akin to the mindset of a broken mind with no hope of reprieve, clinging to the last shred of hope even remotely imaginable to a mind lost to an all consuming darkness. The mind has been ravaged time and time again, and this my goal is to create the feeling of what I can only call the very void of death.

The overall form of the movement, due to the two distinct parts of the text, I’m going to use a ternary lyrical form. With the order fucked up to piss off more than a few people for nothing more than shits and giggles.

Exaudi orationem meam;
ad te omnis caro veniet.
Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Te decet hymnus Deus, in Sion,
et tibi reddetur votum in Ierusalem.

Exaudi orationem meam;
ad te omnis caro veniet.
Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

I wanted to end with “et lux perpetua luceat eis” because it’s a fairly good driving force into the Kyrie, and ensures a textual cadence while keeping the movement at a good length for a thorough composition (not a through composition, that’s a different thing). This movement will set the stage for the emotional content of the entire Requiem to come. To help set the mood, I want to use a specific harmonic motif that helps set an overall dark mood. To do so, I’m going to elect to use a harmonic motif that is fairly dark and also fairly chromatic. The main chord change I want to use will be a movement from minor chord to minor chord by minor third. If we assume the antecedent chord is c minor, then the antecedent chord would be e-flat minor or a minor. This sets up a step by minor third in one of the voices (G->Gb or Eb->E) that can be exploited rather effectively, particularly in a fully voiced polychord. The antecendent-consequent chordal relationship in the Introit will then be payed off in full at the start of the Kyrie when the strings enter with a full III-E5 polychord (using Milhaud Polytonality I put together; it should be up already on Persichetti Chapter 2. I’ll put it up below if I forgot to link it there).

milhaudExtrapolation

III-E5

II – Kyrie
I want to use the antecendent-consequent chord changes to foreshadow the beginning of the second movement, which will use the simultaneous antecendent-consequent variant as the choir pushes into the Kyrie. The text is as follows:

Kyrie eleison;
Christe eleison;
Kyrie eleison.

Now that’s already far more lyrically complicated than the first movement. As with the first movement, ternary would be an optimal form for this due to the natural three part form of the text in the movement. However, to spice up the formula a bit, the movement will move towards being in the locrian mode by the end of the second movement. Due to locrian being the darkest mode, I wanted to convey a descent into a sickening depth where meanings and views are obscured and twisted beyond recognition, turning them into convoluted monstrosities of the once-pure and good things they originally were.

However, I don’t want to push into full free atonality quite yet, because I need to construct a crescendo of harmonic tension into the final part of the macromovement. To do this, I will push into an inherently harmonically unstable mode, one that’s tonic chord is a diminished chord. Now, that diminished chord is going to want to pull to a different chord. The important part of this is that, to keep that harmonic intensity brewing, it can’t be allowed to resolve properly, until the third section of the macromovement. However, even then, it won’t truly be resolved to maintain that pressure until the end. Now that those hooks have been set, they must now wait to be properly twisted.

This is done to signify the beginning of the descent, and not a particularly noticeable one at that. It only really becomes a noticeable shift into the darkness in the Third Movement, where it will be noticeably darker. Granted, it won’t be more harmonically tense, at least at the start of the Tract, but I will push to darker sonorities without the use of more extreme tension, primarily through more chromatic shifts and fewer harmonically unstable chords.

III – Tract
This movement will step back on the tension overall, and take a tamer approach to the III-E5 polychord to bring the macromovement to a close, as well as hint at contrasts to come in the next macromovement as a whole. To bring the contrast into fruition, I will start the section with an alteration of the III-E5 polychord to a IV-A1 polychord before falling back into a darker polychord. Now, to allude to the change to the lydian mode, I decided to opt for a major chord with an added ♯4. This is done for two reasons; the first is to contrast to symbolize a push back into the metaphorical light, before it is quickly stamped back out by the all-consuming blackness of depression once more. The second reason is to foreshadow the Eighth Movement, “In Paradisum,” the only movement composed in a bright mode. This is the first of a multitude of allusions towards this same concept throughout the Requiem.

III-E5 and IV-A1

Now, the text of the movement:

Absolve, Domine,
animas omnium fidelium defunctorum
ab omni vinculo delictorum
et gratia tua illis succurrente
mereantur evadere iudicium ultionis,
et lucis æternae beatitudine perfrui.

This movement will be a bit more difficult to determine a natural division in the text. Of course, we could take the lazy route of saying the entire thing is a single block. However, I think this point would be an opportune moment to elaborate on this particular notion. Because this movement has a brighter lyrical tone than the two previous sections, I wanted to bring the irony to a culminating point in the macromovement, to underline a distinct difference particularly in the end of the text. Furthermore, partly out of inspiration by Ralph Vaughan William’s “Toward the Unknown Region,” I’m considering using fugal development and exposition as he did in the lines starting with “Nor touch of human hand,” in which he puts the choir through a gorgeous fugal section. I want to do something similar to this, but far darker and more sinister, as well as longer. Finally, I want to also bring the III-E5 chord to a point of ultimate expansion to full-blown polytonality, though I’m still debating on how I want to divide the instruments and choir, though I’m probably going to divide between choir and strings. This will end the first macromovement rather explosively, leaving a deadening silence before the second macromovement explodes forth in all its glory.

The primary role of this movement is to finalize the descent, and to start foreshadowing the powerlessness in the upcoming macromovements. The end of the movement will push to more dissonant tensions and start the exposition on new harmonic ideas and motifs to come, primarily those found within the second macromovement, “The Consuming Terror,” as well as to give closure the descent arc and expose the arc regarding the darkness that will rip the life from you, both figuratively and literally.

This ends my walk-through of “The Encroaching Darkness.” The main goal for this macromovement is to show the onset of an all-consuming terror and darkness that tears every ounce of light and life from you until you’re little more than withered husks of who you used to be, leaving your humanity beyond and being reduced to an animal wanting nothing more than an escape from the endless, debilitating pain you feel everyday. How lovely.

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