Christopher Rouse - Composer

Press and Program Notes



Program Note by the Composer

Completed in Aspen, Colorado on July 12, 2002, my Requiem was commissioned by the Chicago-based organization Solo Dei Gloria in honor of the 2003 bicentenary of Hector Berlioz' birth.

Berlioz is a composer whose music has always held an especially profound power over me, and his own mighty Requiem remains one of the most stupendous and imaginative of all such works, a unique example of the genre. While I chose not to make use of actual musical quotations from Berlioz' works, I decided to reflect my love of his music by setting the Latin text with the same cuts, emendations, and reshufflings that he had chosen for his own Requiem.

It would seem, however, that since Benjamin Britten composed his "War Requiem" in 1962 with interpolated poems by Wilfred Owen few composers have been able to resist the temptation to similarly "trope" the traditional Latin Requiem text with texts from other sources, and I was no exception. My goal was to use the chorus, restricted to the Latin liturgical text, to express the enormity of "death" in its deepest context; the role of the bass-baritone soloist would then be to make the experience of death more personal by adopting the classic figure of the "Everyman" whose life is marked by the deaths of loved ones around him.

The work begins with the soloist singing alone the lines of Seamus Heaney's "Mid-Term Break," in which a boy leaves school to attend the funeral of his younger brother, struck by a car. Before the "Tuba Mirum" come lines from Siegfried Sassoon's "Suicide in the Trenches," in which the poet describes the self-destruction of a shell-shocked comrade. The "Rex Tremendae" is succeeded by excerpts from Michelangelo's ode on the death of his father, and the "Sanctus" is preceded by Ben Jonson's "On My First Son," a heartbreaking contemplation of the death of his child. Before the "Agnus Dei" comes John Milton's Sonnet 23, in which he dreams that his dead wife has returned to him. Finally, Michelangelo's "On Immortality" (set, like the earlier Michelangelo poem, in the original Italian), sung near the very end of the score, speaks of the "Everyman" figure's own death.

September 11, 2001 found me in New York City. After the initial shock of the day's events began to wear off, it became obvious to me that this Requiem of which I had completed about half should be completed in and dedicated to the remembrance of those who perished. However, further reflection led me to change my mind; I had come to feel that some tragedies were too enormous to consecrate with anything more than deep but silent grieving and that to turn this piece into a "9/11 work" might even smack a bit of opportunism. There is a small, symbolic reference in the score to September 11, but beyond that I have elected to attempt, in my own inadequate way, a remembrance of all who have died as well as those who have survived and grieved for them. It is my hope that my Requiem will, in the end, provide some sort of solace, and for this reason I have interspersed near the conclusion verses from the Anglican hymn "Now the Laborer's Task is O'er" (death) with lines from "Es ist ein' Ros' entsprungen" (i.e., "Lo! How a Rose e'er Blooming" - birth).

The works lasts approximately ninety minutes.

Christopher Rouse

Orange County Register

Timothy Mangan

"...its trajectory is headlong, the energy of its invention unabated throughout." (Click to read the entire article)


"This is an excellent work. It is beautiful. It is emotional. It is powerful. It is dramatic, and it is peaceful. This is a Requiem that sets a standard for composers of the future while holding its own against compositions of the past." (Click to read the entire article)

Los Angeles Times

Mark Swed

"Rouse's is the first great traditional American Requiem." (Click to read the entire article)

Musical America

David Mermelstein

"The evening's most touching moment, at least for me, came when Sylvan finished the dreamlike setting of Jonson's lament on his deceased child and the superb Los Angeles Children's Chorus entered with the 'Sanctus,' the latter section essentially flowing from the former and turning both into a single moving elegy. For nearly the whole Requiem, soloist and chorus alternate — the soloist taking the poems, the massed voices the sections of the Latin Mass. Toward the end of the 'Agnus Dei,' this Requiem's last section, the soloist joins the chorus. The effect is mesmerizing, especially as the chorus segues into a pastoral setting of a hymn from the composer's youth. The baritone reenters with 'On Immortality,' one of the two poems by Michelangelo in the work. On its heels, Rouse creates a powerful anthemic effect by having the full chorus sing the hymn's second stanza at the same time the children's chorus sings another hymn, in German. Soon, there are only whispers, and as the chorus intones 'Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis' ('Grant them eternal rest')."

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