Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Beheading—Nabokov; The Requiem—Andrew Lloyd Webber

Dear Vladimir and Andrew,

In 1794, a group of sixteen nuns were convicted and found, on the lists of Robespierre, guilty of crimes against the. . . but it doesn't matter against who, does it?. . . and taken to the guillotine of Paris, the Barriere de Vincennes. They are the subject of this prayer, spoken first by St. Terese of Lisieux:
How beautiful the [beatification] ceremony of our Blesseds [of Compiègne] must have been, and how you must have given thanks to God, who has led me onto this mountain of Carmel, in this Order made famous by so many saints and martyrs. Oh! how happy I would be if my Master also wanted me to pour out my blood for Him! But what I ask of Him especially is that martyrdom of love which consumed my holy Mother Teresa, whom the Church proclaims a victim of charity.

My husband, who has been teaching a class on the writings and thoughts of the early church mystics read me a story from one woman, Ste. Teresa of Avila, who like, Sister Helen Prejean of Susan Sarandon fame, walked with the dead to the scaffold. The story is of the beatific vision experienced by the dear saint who would not leave the head of her condemned and whose labor would not suffer the final humiliation of a decapitated bounce in a basket but whose arms became a bloody cradle and whose spirit joined his for some moments in beatified ascent to the arms of Jesus.

As I stroked the blade of the final page of Invitation to a Beheading, I was prepared for the end, for I had read Azar Nafisi's analysis of the work and knew, if not the book, the conclusion of the book. I had been waiting for this, anticipating this Nabokovian beatification.

But after I closed the book, I popped into my car, and flipped on the cheap little mp3 player that I got for Christmas. It's no iPOD. Every time I turn it on is a surprise, no screen, no log, just random musics. But I had loaded, on the third day of Christmas, the Requiem mass that Andrew composed and produced in 1985 with Lorin Maazel and starring (there is no other way to say it) Placido Domingo, with notable performances by Sarah Brightman and Paul Miles-Kingston, the young treble soprano, and backed by the Winchester Cathedral Choir. The Requiem can also be found on Gold: The Definitive Hits Collection.

In my continuing search for the perfect requiem mass, I found yours, Andrew. Unfortunately, it is not perfect, except for the Pie Jesu which is, as sung by then little Paul, as sweet a musical rendering of these words as has ever been composed. (Check out the one minute sample on the above link.)
Pie, Jesu, qui tollis peccata mundi dona eis requiem.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi dona eis requiem sempiternam.
This is the music I would like to accompany my ascent with the Blessed Martyrs of Compiègne (who were, I believe, singing Salve Regina), and Cincinnatus, and Robespierre, when I too have been beheaded.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.



PS: A note to Andrew

Mostly, Webber, I think you had best stick with song and dance, but you, like George Gershwin before you, have reached into your soul and found something more for us here. The initial requiem theme is wonderful, though you rush (as I guess we are all wont to do) to the statement of the Kyrie eleison. Then quick as a bunny we are into the Dies Irae. There are wonderful moments throughout and I wouldn't want to discourage you. The Hosanna could stand some work—at the benedictus I'm picturing a high school musical dance troop. And please, please get rid of the Phantom's organ solo during the final Libera Me. Otherwise, thanks for a beautiful rendition.

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