Kyrie: In Depth with the Composer
“Kyrie, the last movement of “The people” section of my Requiem, is –as cautiously as I can say it –possibly my favorite movement. This is the moment in which the celebration of the lives of the people passed takes place, and an almost dance-like theme sings out joyously for the future. Some might say this is an odd choice for the text, which translates to “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.” In response I’d say that there is a lot of symbolism in this particular movement, and I would love to point some of it out to the experienced and amateur listener alike:
The first thing some might notice is the constant group of three that is the building block to this movement; this is not actually only MY decision. In the traditional Kyrie text, the phrase “Kyrie eleison,” is said three times before moving to the “Christe eleison,” which is repeated in the same fashion. This is finally followed up by one more set of three “Kyrie eleison’s,” to complete the dialogue. All of that in mind, the opening of this movement commences with the choir singing two sets of three “Kyrie’s.” ‘But why not three sets to make it follow the pattern?’ you might ask. Hold on for just a moment, I’ll get to that soon!
The next section of the movement is a fugue. Traditionally (or at least up to the Romantic Era of music) a Kyrieoften was written as a fugue, or a contrapuntal proof of knowing how to creatively and technically compose in the learned style. For those of you who speak English, it is simply taking a melody and repeating it, sometimes over itself, but often starting on a different pitch. My Kyrie follows (most of) the rules of a fugue, and uses a dance-like theme throughout, changing meters to give it an extra little “Umph!” The People this portion of theRequiem follows are celebrating the life of the deceased, and how they have influenced the future generations! It is a dance of hope for what will come. If there is one part of this Requiem that might get stuck in your head, this is it!
The next section, the ‘Christe section’ is no longer a fugue, and turns much more solemn and dark, symbolizing the reflection of the pain and sorrows in the lives of the families of those passed. This moment doesn’t last for long however, when the tempo suddenly picks up and the choir catapults into the last ‘Kyrie section.’ At this point, the two themes (the one from the first ‘Kyrie section’ and the second from the ‘Christe section’) collide and sound simultaneously, a statement that a good and full life is both filled with celebration as well as pain. Now remember how I opened the movement with only two sets of the three ‘Kyrie’ verses? After this emotional combination of the two separate ideas concludes, it is closely followed by the last set of ‘Kyrie,’ simply displaced from the beginning.
The last thing you’ll hear is an ‘Amen section.’ Traditionally, the word “Amen” does not show up in the Kyriedialogue, but I have added it here to express veneration for the past. If you listen closely, each time the choir sings “Amen,” a melody from a past composer’s Kyrie is quoted. There are three quotes followed by all of them sounding simultaneously. I’ll let you try to figure out which three composers they are (Hint: two of them are from two Masses both written in 1922). At this point the second movement and first section of my Requiem ends, as a reflection of the past, the present, and the hopeful future.
We now move past those left on earth and focus on the souls themselves, embarking on the journey after life. This new section of the Requiem, entitled “The Souls” begins with the third movement of the work, Pie Jesu.”