Maximilien Robespierre affirmed: “Death is the beginning of immortality”. Seen in the light of this thought, the new work of the master Jorge Oviedo fits perfectly into this idea of immortality.
His Requiem 20, premiered a few weeks ago by the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra, is a manifestation of how death can be more than a farewell. His work transcends the temporality of the present to pay homage to those who had to leave because of the covid-19 pandemic.
Indeed, the musician and director starts from the pain and anguish left by the pandemic in Ecuador to create an intense piece. It was composed for orchestra during the months in which it remained confined due to the crisis; it has a choral part in Latin.
Requiem, a constantly evolving song
In the history of music, the mass of the dead or requiem (in Latin) is one of those compositions which, over time, adapt to different styles and times, without however neglecting this tragic spirit that characterized it. . .
If we look at it as a whole, we can notice these little changes that have added shine to this type of composition. For example, the work of Johannes Ockeghem, in the 15th century, is presented as a choral piece very close to Gregorian chant, the liturgical function of which is very evident.
Over the centuries, the requiem has become a composition in great demand not only by the Catholic Church but also by the aristocrats, who wanted to integrate it into the funeral acts of their loved ones or in memory of them.
It was precisely in this context that Mozart’s Requiem appeared, a work that had been commissioned by an anonymous figure (it was later discovered to be Count Franz von Walsegg). At the gates of the romantic movement, which, among other things, shed light on the feelings of the person, the accidental death of the composer at the end of the writing of the score allowed this particular piece to acquire a special meaning within the work of the musician as a whole.
But beyond the anecdotal situation, Mozart’s Requiem opened the doors to new tunes within the compositions of the masses for the dead.
Unlike previous choral pieces, hers is intense, dramatic, thanks to which a path has been created to other creations that play with these feelings, whether the traditional liturgical structure of Christian rituals is respected or not.
In this line more passionate than liturgical, we can find examples such as Verdi’s Requiem, of which Dies Irae has become popular thanks to the cinema, or A German Requiem, by Brahms, in which the work mixes texts from the Lutheran Bible. and apocryphal passages to emphasize that their interests do not necessarily play into the score in a church.
Already in the twentieth century, in two exceptional masses for the dead, we find one element in particular: the effects of violence on human life. Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem draw inspiration from war conflicts and human pain to create pieces that, in a way, pay homage to those who are gone.
If the death and destruction caused by the war inspired Britten and Lloyd Webber, in Oviedo the inspiration starts from almost the same situation.
In the 21st century, the pandemic has meant an aggressive health war, a medical battle that leaves behind fear and anguish, but also hope for a better future; feelings and emotions can be fully felt in the composition of Oviedo.
Requiem 20 consists of eight parts and largely follows the traditional structure of the mass of the dead. Its text, written in Latin, is composed of elements of the liturgy and passages of prayers or songs.
Overall, the work shows a strong influence of post-minimalism. Throughout the work, choirs and orchestra complement each other to make the listener discover the different moments of the composition. In Requiem aeternam (in Latin), for example, the composer opts for a chaotic instrumentation, which appeals precisely to this need to shout imploring the expression “attend my prayer”, while part of the choir sings.
When it comes to sublime moments, there are two parts that manage to bring the composer to some peace of mind: the Kyrie Eleison and the Offertory. In the first, the strings and the keyboard seem to dance with each other in a frenetic and slow way at the same time. With vocals, this sound movement is almost a mantra, due to its ability to resonate in the listener’s head.
The Offertory, on the other hand, has an easily identifiable sound for an Ecuadorian. Here the composer leaves the work itself for a moment and introduces a dancer. If it seems that a pre-Columbian rhythm is dislodging in a clearly post-minimalist work, this fragment finally puts, if the term is possible, an Ecuadorian color at work.
And since it cannot be missing in a requiem, the Dies Irae retains the characteristics of other pieces from the history of academic music. The instrumentation is strong, violent; the song is almost apocalyptic. In this way, the composer conveys this energetic passage from the Day of Wrath, the 13th century Latin hymn that has been present in the scores of musicians such as Mozart, Stravinsky, Von Suppé and others who have worked around the sad.