Requiem

Requiem

2007, 35' Chorus and orchestra/ensemble

Solo voices: Soprano.Tenor | Solo instrument: cello

Orchestration: 4tpt.4tbn | timp.pow-wow drum.Tibetan temple bowls.2gongs.tamtam | org | str

Languages: English, Latin

The core of this Requiem is expressed by the statement that, ‘Our glory lies where we cease to exist,’ one of the 225 Truths of Sri Ramana Maharshi, a Hindu spiritual master active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Though the work comprehends Hinduism, Catholicism, Islam and Sufism, Requiem draws most significantly on Hinduism’s Universalist approach to spirituality.

Tavener himself felt that the existence of religious doctrine hinges on man’s inability to extinguish the ‘false self’ and to allow the true self — identical with God and the universe — to be attained. He explains this conviction by his belief that despite superficial conflicts, every religion strives to the same end, and is ultimately the doctrine of the self — of self-realisation through reunification with a single spiritual origin. This view was shared by Ramakrishna, another 19th-century Hindu mystic who was believed by some to be an incarnation of this ultimate spiritual reality. He readily explored other religious traditions, most prominently Islam and Christianity, but arrived at the conclusion that all lead to the same Supreme Being, or concept of a manifest energy. Ramakrishna principally worshipped the goddess Kali and claimed to have seen her manifest as the Supreme Being, and in the fourth movement of Requiem, the judgment of Christ depicted in the Dies Irae intersects with the ferocious Kali’s Dance, based on an Indian rhythmic pattern called Mohara, which ‘dances’ throughout. This meeting of traditions not only represents the intersection of the temporal and the eternal, but is the climactic point of a highly structured piece of seven movements, reflecting the cruciform performance space for which it is intended.

The solo cello symbolises the Primordial Light said to journey with a soul from death to the state of unity, and thus the soloist takes up position in the centre of the formation. Choir and brass are in the east end, with strings, solo treble and solo tenor opposite in the west end. The north and south house the Tibetan temple bowls, gongs and tam-tam, two sets of timpani and a pow-wow drum. The audience is seated in the midst of these clusters.The cello guides us through the first and second movements on its journey to Paradise, representing the fading false self before its total annihilation played out in Kali’s Dance and juxtaposed with the Judgment of Christ. The following two movements fall into serenity followed by the ecstasy of the second movement, before settings of Sanskrit, Hebrew, Greek and Arabic texts all communicate in pulsating rhythm the statement, ‘I am that — I am God.’

A particularly famous saying of Ramakrishna would seem to encapsulate the purpose not only of Requiem but of Tavener himself, in music and in life, that ‘He is born in vain, who having attained the human birth, so difficult to get, does not attempt to realise God in this very life.’ From a spiritual viewpoint secular society, by favouring worldly enlightenment through human innovation, is only drifting further from the fulfilment it seeks.