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The Requiem, or Mass for the Dead, is a liturgical text that has spawned some of the weightiest works in the history of western classical music. It has also provided the title for a number of non-liturgical large-scale works that I have decided not to include in this list, although this has meant excluding major works by the likes of Brahms, Delius, and Hindemith.
Victoria : Officium Defunctorum (Requiem) (1603)
Tomás Luis de Victoria was the greatest Spanish composer of his time, and perhaps of all time. This work is by no means the earliest polyphonic (multi-voiced) setting of the Requiem text, but it is perhaps the most beautiful setting prior to Mozart.
Mozart – Requiem (1791)
Berlioz – Grande messe des morts (1837)
With its four brass bands and masses of thunderous kettle-drums, this is undoubtedly the most spectacular Requiem setting. However, perhaps its finest music is to be found in the more austere and less theatrical sections.
Verdi – Requiem (1874)
Somewhat in the Berlioz tradition, but more consistently operatic in character – Verdi was always a man of the theatre, even in his liturgical works.
Dvorak – Requiem (1890)
Fauré – Requiem (1887-90)
Stanford – Requiem (1897)
Although Irish, Stanford is regarded as “the father of modern British music” because of his teaching activities in London. His Requiem is perhaps his finest work, displaying the strong Germanic influence that later British and Irish composers would have to overcome.
Britten –War Requiem (1962)
In the 20th century, as the four modern works I’ve included demonstrate, “straight” settings of the liturgy became the exception rather than the rule. The pacifist Britten juxtaposed the liturgical texts with poems by Wilfred Owen, killed in World War 1.
Ligeti – Requiem (1965)
Ligeti, who was Jewish, set only three segments (in four sections) from the liturgical text. This is a post-Holocaust requiem, full of a horror that is beyond grief.
Stravinsky – Requiem Canticles (1966)
This was the 84-year-old composer’s “requiem for himself”, and was performed at his funeral in Venice in 1971. Its 9 short sections set snippets from the liturgical text, and last barely 15′.
Dusapin – Dona eis (1997)
Although working within the traditional 6-movement mass framework, the contemporary French composer Pascal Dusapin has also only set snippets from the liturgical text, interspersed with extracts from the libretto of his opera Roméo et Juliette. For chamber choir and chamber ensemble, this is an intimate and concentrated work.
Raymond Deane was born in Co Galway. From 1963 he lived in Dublin, where he studied music at University College Dublin, graduating in 1974. He subsequently studied composition in Switzerland and Germany with Gerald Bennett, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Isang Yun. His works have been commissioned by and for some of the world’s most celebrated musicians. His opera The Alma Fetish was performed by Wide Open Opera in Dublin’s NCH in 2013. He has also published a novel (Death of a Medium 1992) and a memoir (In my own Light, 2014), as well as many articles on music, politics, and their intersection. He has been a member of Aosdána, the government-sponsored academy of artists, since 1986. He is based in Dublin and Fürth (Bavaria).