8 Requiems You Should Know

A Requiem is a mass for the dead, usually composed for voices, often with instrumental ensemble. Composers have been long been drawn to composing requiems for multitude of reasons, including personal expressions of grief or loss, the dramatic and expressive musical possibilities, the imagery of the texts, or religious belief. While all requiems have some commonalities, composers have created a wide variety of compositions based on the idea of honoring the dead. Many composers choose the traditional Latin requiem mass text, but others have chosen texts from other languages, authors, or other religious or non-religious ideologies. Some composers have even composed purely instrumental requiems.

In the following list I have chosen 8 requiems that every classical music listener should know:

1) Mozart - Requiem 
  • Composed for soprano, alto, tenor, and bass soloists, chorus, and orchestra. Mozart died before he could finish it. It was completed by other composers, notably Franz Xaver Süssmayr.

2) Berlioz - Grande Messe des morts
  • Composed for a huge orchestra, with 4 offstage brass choirs, a tenor soloist, and chorus. This requiem is a huge and dramatic work, with both apocalyptic and consolatory sections.

3) Brahms - A German Requiem
  • Composed for soprano and baritone soloists, chorus, and orchestra. Instead of the usual Latin text, Brahms uses texts taken from the German translation of the Bible.

4) VerdiRequiem
  • Composed for vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra. This is another big and dramatic requiem, with Verdi's dramatic and operatic sensibilities shining through.

5) FaureRequiem
  • Composed for soprano and baritone soloists, chorus, and orchestra. This requiem is much more peaceful than other requiems, giving the listener a much more consolatory experience. 

6) BrittenWar Requiem
  • Composed for vocal soloists, choruses, a chamber orchestra, and large orchestra. This requiem uses the Latin texts interspersed with poems about war by English poet and soldier Wilfred Owen.

7) SchnittkeRequiem
  • Composed for vocal soloists, chorus, brass, percussion, celesta, organ, piano, electric guitar, and bass guitar. Schnittke composed this unique requiem for use in a production of Friedrich Schiller's play Don Carlos.

8) TakemitsuRequiem
  • This is a purely instrumental requiem, composed for string orchestra. Takemitsu composed this requiem at a time when he was seriously ill and contemplating his own mortality.1
1. Peter Burt, The Music of Toru Takemitsu, (United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 50

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