Most requiem settings follow the framework of a liturgical mass - Kyrie, Sanctus, Benedictus,Agnus Dei etc. Rutter’s setting is more unusual in that, alongside familiar movements (there is aKyrie, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus), he uses psalm texts to form the other movements. Thissets the work aside from most other requiems, but is not without precedent. Brahms’ Requiemdoes not contain any movements recognisable from traditional liturgy, but he instead usesLutheran texts with much less overtly-religious content.
Gabriel Fauré’s (1845-1924) setting was a great inspiration to Rutter. He was the first composer tofollow the basic framework of the requiem liturgy but to tweak it to his own needs. He abandonedthe fire and brimstone of the Dies Irae and added the In Paradisum at the end (the Catholic texttraditionally intended to be read by the graveside). He also singled out the Pie Jesu and made it astandalone movement, which in turn inspired Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986), John Rutter, andnumerous others to do the same.
Rutter has talked openly about the influences - both personal and musical - which led to the writingof his Requiem in 1983. His father, who was very interested in music but not trained, died in thisyear. Rutter consciously wanted his setting to be accessible and something his father could haveimmediately enjoyed. Around the same time, the manuscript of Fauré’s Requiem had just come tolight and been made available to scholars. Coming in contact with the original manuscript of apiece Rutter loves deeply was, he says, also a catalyst for him to write his own setting.
It was clear from Fauré’s manuscript that performance practice of his setting has always been veryfluid. It was performed at funerals and at requiem masses both large and small, as well as inconcert. It is known certain movements would have been cut and others reordered. Importantly, itwas clear that with Fauré’s setting different combinations of instruments were available on differentoccasions, so Fauré allowed for this fluidity by having three basic versions:
- organ only
- chamber ensemble
- full orchestra
Rutter’s setting has a consciously arch-like structure running across the movements. The sevenmovements are structured as follows, with non-traditional psalm texts sitting inside the first and lastmovements, and the central movement (the Sanctus) conceived as the high-point of the work witha message of hope:
1&7: Requiem & Lux aeterna - traditional Latin texts
2&6: Outofthedeep & The Lord is my Shepherd - psalm texts
3&5: PieJesu & Agnus Dei - traditional Latin texts
4: Sanctus - traditional Latin text
John Rutter’s music needs little introduction. He is one of the most established and successfulchoral composers (and conductors) in the world. His music is immediately accessible andapproachable, making it hugely popular with choirs and audiences alike. Although still seen as a‘modern’ Requiem setting, the work is already over 30 years old. A quick internet search willhighlight dozens of performances of this work taking place up and down the country every week.
There are comparatively very few classical works from the 1980s which have become core parts ofthe repertoire: John Rutter and his Requiem, however, are now both fully entrenched ascornerstones of choral music.