for soprano and mezzo soprano solo, mixed choir and orchestra
Choir and Orchestra
Number of performers
five-part choir SMsATB orchestra: 3 · 3 · 3 · 2 - 4 · 3 tromba bassa · 3 · 1 - perc. - celesta - str.
Composition year(s)
World premiere
Stockholm · Liliana Poli, soprano · Barbro Ericson, mezzo soprano · choirs and orchestras of the Swedish Radio · conductor: Michael Gielen
Extra title
Abweichend von der früheren Besetzung für zwei Chöre verlangt der revidierte Notentext nur noch einen gemischten Chor.
Comment of the composer on the work

In my Requiem, which I composed from 1963 to 1965, I set only three segments from the traditional Latin Mass of the Dead: the Introit, the Kyrie and the sequence by Tommaso da Celano. The sequence is divided into two parts: the Dies irae and the Lacrimosa. The Dies irae, with its wild and dramatic passages, lies at the centre of the work. These passages allude to pictorial representations of the Last Judgement, particularly to Memling’s altar-piece in Danzig (Gdańsk), but also to the apocalyptic paintings of Pieter Brueghel the Elder and Hieronymus Bosch, as well as Dürer’s copperplate engravings. The character of this movement is hysterical, hyperdramatic and unrestrained.

The work is scored for a medium-size orchestra, two solo voices (soprano and mezzo-soprano) and choir. However, as the orchestration is very compact, the choir must consist of at least a hundred singers.

Formally, the piece was conceived as a balanced juxtaposition of homophonic and polyphonic structures: the Introit is homophonic, the Kyrie polyphonic, the Dies irae polyphonic with homophonic “islands,” and the Lacrimosa, finally, a two-voice homophonic structure with a reduced orchestra.

The Kyrie is a “great fugue” with five main voices (S, M, A, T, B). Each main voice consists of a four-part canon, resulting in a twenty-voice choral texture. The four-part groups always begin in unison and then fan out into canons following rigorous rules that I established. These rules ensure the unity of the construction. The musical language is strictly chromatic and shows a rhythmic complexity based on imitation, which causes the orchestra to shimmer in iridescent colours. The unison entries of the canonic groups are always supported by instruments, which not only adds colour, but also helps with the intonation; the instrumental parts provide a support structure for the vocal parts.

© 2001–2003 Teldec Classics & 2004 Warner Classics, Warner Music UK Ltd | Translation: Louise Duchesneau