Introit: In depth with the composer
by Bryan Grosbach
“For those who don’t know, A Requiem Mass is a mass in the Catholic Church offered for the repose of the soul or souls of one or more deceased persons, using a particular form of the Roman Missal. It is frequently, but not necessarily, celebrated in the context of a funeral. Throughout the centuries, many composers have set music to the texts used in a Requiem Mass to create special works representing death and mourning. However, in more recent centuries composers have written Requiems as concert works, meant only as pieces of music to be used in a Western Classical Art Music concert or performance; myRequiem is one such work.
I wrote my Requiem to represent the voyage of souls after their passing from earth. The piece is written in seven movements using the traditional texts of the Requiem Mass, and can be regarded as three divided sections based upon the perspective the text is being sung from. The first section, titled “The people,” consists of the beginning two movements of the work, which are seen from the perspective of the people mourning the passing of their loved ones. ‘Introit’ is the first of this two-movement section, and is written as a double choir movement (meaning two separate, four part choirs that are singing simultaneously).
It is always difficult deciding how to start out the first part of a large work. In this movement, I wanted to create the scene of people in prayer after the departure of their loved ones. The way I accomplished this was by having the second choir create a bed of sound, and then to have a solemn and slow prayer through a melody in the first choir rest atop it. Something I also did in this movement is add a small section where the original Gregorian chant shows up for the first of only two times throughout my entire Requiem –the second appearing in the final movement, to bookend the work with a sense of tradition and historical reverence. Eventually this movement builds to the two bass sections in each choir lining up while fiercely singing, “omnis caro veniet,” meaning roughly, “All flesh returns,” a final and powerful proclamation to the conclusion of life.
It is important here to also mention that because three and seven are considered holy numbers (the three parts of God, and the seven days of creation) they hold much significance to the structure of my Requiem through its entirety. After all, it is no coincidence that the composition is written in seven movements that then are grouped into three different perspectives. The ending of Introit is interesting in that it is never quite the same every time it is performed. I like the idea of writing music that allows each performer to make their own decision, to be a soloist in the context of the choir, and to have an influence on a unique performance. That being said, the dramatic shift here begins when the two choirs sing an ambiguous chord, and sevenspeakers start praying the first part of text from this movement over the musical tones at their own pace, and starting whenever they’d like. A soloist then marks the end of this section of singing a prayer as a final voice pleading for the eternal rest of the departed souls. After this is repeated three times, the two choirs come together in one final chord. This completes the prayer for the souls departed and sets us up for the next movement, Kyrie.”