The Messa da Requiem by Giuseppe Verdi is a musical setting of the Roman Catholic funeral mass Requiem for four soloists, double choir and orchestra. It was composed in memory of Alessandro Manzoni, an Italian poet and novelist much admired by Verdi. The first performance in San Marco in Milan on 22 May marked the first anniversary of his death. The work used to be called the Manzoni Requiem.
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This would later change, as during the Romantic period, composers wrote Requiems on a larger scale in terms of both length and required orchestral forces; they became, in effect, dramatic oratorios, and often operatic in style.
Indeed, the great opera composers Giocomo Puccini, Giuseppe Verdi, and Gaetano Donizetti all wrote pieces in this genre. For instance, Frederick Delius, an atheist, originally termed his effort in the genre, which used a text largely derived from the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer, A Pagan Requiem.
The list below ranks the greatest Requiems of all time, in order of greatness. There are many worthy Requiems which I have been forced to leave off this list. The performance below is among the best of the fifty or so recordings I have listened to over thirty years.
And though one will think of that greater Requiem when listening to this one, this Mass for the Dead, which takes about thirty-five minutes to perform, stands on its own as a work of genius, one imbued with an unrelieved sense of drama and urgency. There is a supremely dramatic Dies Irae, a melting tune in the Lacrymosa, an absolutely gorgeous a capella Benedictus for the four soloists listen at in the video below , and an eerie Quantus tremor, whose echoing brass motif is a truly memorable effect.
Though the judgment of time has deemed it not to reach that exalted level, it is nevertheless a great work. He wrote much worthy, and sometimes brilliant, orchestral and chamber music, as well as many choral works and operas. In employing only a chorus and not soloists, Cherubini avoids any hint of the operatic.
Kozlovsky primarily wrote for the royal theater—dances and incidental music—but his Requiem is a grand creation that surprises with its profundity. It ends, atypically, with funeral march, followed by a setting of the Salve Regina. Unfortunately there presently exists only one recording of this work, a Soviet-era production in somewhat inferior sound; but it is well worth repeated listening despite its sonic shortcomings.
His Requiem is one of a handful of his sacred works and certainly his best. Dedicated to Pope Pius IX, the work clocks in around seventy-five minutes and is dramatic and profound, with only a touch of the operatic in one or two places. But indeed he did—and in a mere eight days.
Though he may not have bought into the theology represented by the Catholic Requiem Mass, he considered his composition a serious work. He was called into the service of Emperor Joseph II in In Vienna, he served as court ballet composer, chamber composer, and court conductor.
Gassmann wrote his Requiem in the last year of his life, completing only the Introit, Kyrie, and Sequence. The Latin text of the Requiem can be found here. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? All comments are moderated and must be civil, concise, and constructive to the conversation.
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