The orchestra is an ensemble of extremes. Requiring players to perform blistering passages, play at roaring volumes or at the level of a whisper, all while competing with almost 100 other people to be heard. A chorus is a shining example of the dynamic ability of the human voice, and weaving the two together creates a grandiose work of music.
The UNCG University Symphony Orchestra is to perform Giuseppe Verdi’s “Messa da Requiem” at its next concert. Composed for large orchestra, double-chorus and four solo singers, the work is a 90 minute excursion into religion, including moments of operaticism.
Looking at the style of the work, a “requiem” is a mass for the dead, and can be performed both in and outside of funerals. Verdi wrote this work in the late spring of 1823 upon hearing that poet and writer Alessandro Manzoni had passed. Manzoni was an icon of Italian artistic culture during the period, and Verdi only saw it fit to dedicate the “Massa de Requiem” in his honor. The piece was premiered a year later on the anniversary of Manzoni’s death.
The “Requiem” matches it’s length and power with just the sheer amount of effort it takes to perform such a piece. With almost 200 hundred people on stage, as well trumpets playing antiphonally, off stage, the music almost demands as much on the listener as it does the player.
Separated into seven distinct section, each movement uses music to bring out subject matter of the text. The “Requiem & Kyrie” serve as an introduction to the piece. It begins with the cellos on a soft moving line. The orchestra and chorus then join, the text here asks is asking God to provide safety and care for those who have died.
The “Dies Irae” is perhaps the most bombastic, and at 35 minutes definitively the longest, section of the “Requiem”. The strings and percussion start with pounding out chords and whirling scales. A translation of the text reads, “The day of wrath, the day that will dissolve the world in ashes, as David and the Sibyl prophesied”. The brass here appears to be fighting with the chorus, as they have their entrances interrupt each other. The “Offertorio” follows in this vein, asking God to rescue the faithful souls from Hell. This features rather introspective solo’s from the tenor and bass singers.
In the “Sanctus”, Verdi divides the Choruses in two parts, and represents a change of character for the piece. It moves back into major, giving the music a lighter and more jovial feel. Verdi also experiments with fugue, meaning interweaving the same melody between sections and spaces in time. The “Agnus Dei”, translated as “Lamb of God” features a long and beautiful melody that starts in the solo singers, and is then handed off to the rest of the orchestra and choir. This is the most reserved moment in the “Requiem”, but also shows the great amount of contrast that is demanded from all of the performers.
The text of “Lux Aeterna” is translated as “Let eternal light shine upon them, O Lord,
with your saints forever; for you are merciful”. This is matched by the strings doing a tremolo, meant to act as light opening across the skies. The final movement “Libera Me” ends on an unresolved chord. This is Verdi showing his genius. Rather than affirming, he opts to end on a musical question, noting that he doesn’t know what happens after death, and neither does anyone else.
Verdi’s “Requiem” does have a bit of a troubled history. Verdi actually started writing parts of the “Requiem” after the death of famous Italian opera composer, Gioachino Rossini. This was meant to be a project shared between several other composers, but ultimately failed due to poor planning. During WWII, it was actually performed a number of times at the Theresienstadt internment camp. This was also done with only one copy of the vocal score, meaning that it had by learned entirely from memory by the performers. The piece has also been staged to show different disasters that has happened in the modern day.
The University Symphony Orchestra will be performing the “Requiem” on Friday, February 24. The concert takes places in the UNCG Auditorium at 7:30 p.m., and free to both students and the public. It promises to a moving performance, showcasing the hard work and dedication of our music students.