About this work

Having recently prepared an edition of Fauré's Requiem restoring its small-scale scoring, John Rutter was naturally influenced by that tender, subtle, and comforting French work in writing his own Requiem in 1985. Many critics assailed Rutter's work for its old-fashioned tunefulness, its gentle harmonies, and its refusal to confront the darkness and violence of the twentieth century. Meanwhile, church and amateur choral societies, radio listeners, and CD buyers responded to the work with remarkable enthusiasm. Critical response has softened over the years, as it has become clear that Rutter was not cynically trying to write a commercial hit, but was employing his natural voice, a voice that resonates with many music lovers.

Rutter composed his Requiem in response to the death of a parent. He has explained, "The music is not a complete setting of the Missa pro defunctis as laid down in Catholic liturgy, but instead a meditation on themes of life and death using a personal compilation of texts. Like Fauré, I selected portions of the Requiem Mass, and like Britten, I wove other, English texts into them to form a counterpoint to the Latin....The result is a concert work rather than a liturgical Requiem." Rutter creates a seven-movement arch. The first and last movements are prayers to God, drawn from the Latin format (Requiem aeternam and Lux aeterna, the latter including a passage in English from the Burial Sentences of the Book of Common Prayer). The second, "Out of the Deep," and sixth, "The Lord Is My Shepherd," are psalm settings (numbers 130 and 23, respectively); the former appropriately includes a double bass solo and the latter features the oboe, an instrument inextricably linked with English pastoralism. The third movement, Pie Jesu (from the standard Requiem sequence), and the fifth, Agnus Dei (the Requiem again, to which is appended a few words from the Book of Common Prayer), Rutter describes as "personal prayers to Christ." The central Sanctus, a standard mass text, is the briefest but most affirmative section, complete with celebratory bells. Short snatches of Gregorian chant find their way into the Agnus Dei and Lux aeterna, but the strongest influence here is surely Ralph Vaughan Williams, another composer well aware of the history of English hymnody and committed to imbuing his music with an identifiably English sound. Rutter's style, however, is more cinematic in its lush harmonies and occasionally syncopated melodies. The Requiem is available in two versions; in one, the chorus is accompanied by organ and six instruments, and in the other, by a small orchestra.