Not everyone is fortunate enough to attend the world premiere of a Requiem. In March, the Sydney Chamber Choir received a standing ovation from a masked audience after the world premiere of Paul Stanhope’s Requiem.
Stanhope’s Requiem was completed before the coronavirus broke out, and the world premiere has had to be put on hold for over a year.
– Although a Requiem is weighty and sombre in many ways, it also has the capacity to be uplifting and life-affirming. And after the year we’ve just had, perhaps this is just what we need right now, Stanhope says to Sivilisasjonen.
Lessons From An Ancient Culture
Stanhope is clear that the piece he has written is not a “corona requiem,” but rather a universal requiem. When composing, he has not only been inspired by composers such as Fauré, Britten, and his own master Peter Sculthorpe, but also learned from the Aboriginal musical tradition.
– Could you describe how you go about to make music with a more universal appeal?
Stanhope allows himself to be slightly more specific in his answer, and suggests that his intention is that the piece is open-ended:
– I am simply trying to juxtapose different perspectives on what it is to mourn and grieve and to use both the religious and poetic texts as springboards for music ideas, says Stanhope.
He explains that he has attempted to incorporate an Indigenous Australian perspective into the Requiem, and to garner the insights penned by Aboriginal Australian poet, Oodgeroo Noonuccal to enrich the experience:
– The question to myself was, what does it mean to die on a country which has been dispossessed from its original inhabitants? What can we learn from this ancient and ongoing culture that we can respectfully apply in this context? Although these are some specific aims, I think the observations made by Oodgeroo are universal in that they apply to the human condition and I hope some of this emerges in the music.
Also previously, Stanhope has written music inspired by the Aboriginal culture. 2014 saw the premiere of Stanhope’s music-drama Jandamarra: Sing for the Country, which tells the story of the Western Australian resistance hero. The performance included a large ensemble of singers from the Bunuba Community.
Compliments Norwegian Choral Tradition
It has taken Stanhope more than 20 years to complete his Requiem. He says that the work can be traced back to 1999 when he wrote Lux Aeterna, in memory of a young chorister in St Peters Chorale in Brisbane who passed away. In recent years he wrote more and more pieces, which he ended up incorporating into the requiem – for him it has been a way of tying together past and present.
The Australian composer has had several of his pieces performed in concert halls in Asia, Europe, South and North America. He is no stranger to the fact that his latest piece probably will be performed outside the borders of Oceania too.
– Do you have plans to perform your new Requiem in Norway or elsewhere in Europe?
– I am really hoping this will happen at some stage. In 2004, I toured Norway (Oslo, Trondheim, Bergen) with a school choir and chamber orchestra and I know the fine choral tradition you have in Norway. So I’d love for this piece to find its way to Europe, despite the challenges many countries are still having, says Stanhope.
– Requiems are, after all, for the living
In the Catholic Church, the Requiem is the Mass for the dead, and the name comes from the entrance rite: “Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine” (“Grant unto them eternal rest O Lord”).
– The Requiem, thanks largely to the stories surrounding Mozart’s famously unfinished work, has become an emblematic form that has leapt out of its original church context and into the concert hall, explains Stanhope.
He talks about how requiem as a form of music has changed over time, and that he follows in the footsteps of Fauré and Britten in particular. For example, Stanhope is inspired by Fauré’s more comforting approach to the Mass for the dead, where he omitted the part about doomsday, Dies Irae, and replaced it with the celestial hymn In Paradisum. He has also found inspiration in Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, where the composer uses texts from the secular poet Wilfred Owen.
Stanhope, like Fauré, has left out Dies Irae, and like Britten, parts of the piece are based on English-language poems. The English texts that are part of Stanhope’s requiem were written by the poets Neela Nath Das, Mary Elizabeth Frye, Oodgeroo Noonuccal and Emily Dickinson.
– The Requiem ends with the In Paradisum hymn which also includes as a complementary narrative Emily Dickinson’s poem Hope is the thing with feathers. This is a message of comfort, optimism and peace. After all the disruption of 2020, and after such an epic compositional journey, I am looking forward to bringing this work to life at last. Requiems are, after all, for the living.