Saturday, March 01, 2008

Requiem vs Requiem Mass

Dear Terry Riley,

I have been wondering about myself and my musical passion for the Requiem form. I could be wondering whether I am obsessed with death and why in the world I'm fascinated with music that celebrates passings, but no, nothing so psychologically mature as that. I was wondering if I like just Requiem masses, you know, the full-blown form based on Latin texts and lux aeterna, or whether my interest extends beyond that to, well, all things requiemesque. I tested my ponderings by listening to a few things including your Requiem for Adam and Toru Takemitsu's Requiem for Strings.
My first listen of your work was captivated by the initial movement Ascending the Heavenly Ladder and the note pattern that rungs its way in different harmonic arrangements right up to heaven. But after that I started thinking just about your title reference to Adam and that took me on a detour of the mind. If someone uses the name Adam, people automatically assume universality. Requiem for Adam. "Oh," we say, "it is a requiem for humankind." But suppose one tipsy afternoon you decided to do a Requiem for Eve. That would be a different matter. Since she is mother to the race, we could assume the universal, but we don't, unless our minds stray to the universality of evil. Is not that the worst of the curse of Eve? She bears that universal ignominy of inescapable symbollic association with universal evil.

What burden would a requiem for Eve be forced to bear? Could it begin with ascending scales of a heavenly ladder or would it dive with Mozartian immediacy into the wrath of God.

Fool Eve, perhaps she would be well characterized by something like Takemitsu's Requiem with hardly a glance at eternal delight and just the one recurring convulsive motif. Three steps up the dreamy Jacobian ladder before convulsive precipitation and a fall far beyond the degree of ascent.

I remember one New Year's Eve long, long ago. (Where could we, my husband and me, have been going? Home after a Christmas visit?) The radio station of our choice must have rewarded its station crew with a party and us with a repetition, over and over and over again, of the Zeppelin classic, Stairway to Heaven. Now there, is a requiem for Eve, isn't it? Our lady grabbing the golden apple, not totally without hope, but "Oh, it makes me wonder."
Want to hear a midi of this?

Oh well, my mind travels don't really have anything to do at all with your requiem for young Adam Harrington, do they? And isn't that the way, death is universal, but I'll be switched if we pay much attention until it touches the son of our violinist friend, or our mother, or our seat mate, and then the specter before us is more than we can bear, without a requiem. And that, I think is why I listen, to the formal ones and the informal ones, listen, listen, listen, listen. Listen.

All ears,


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