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Richard Danielpour

Publisher: AMP

An American Requiem (2001),
Text Writer
Roman Catholic Requiem Mass, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Michael Harper, H.D. (Hilda Doolittl
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Chorus and Orchestra/Ensemble
Year Composed
1 Hour 2 Minutes
SATB chorus
English, Latin
Solo Instrument(s)
mezzo soprano, Tenor, Baritone
Programme Note
Richard Danielpour An American Requiem (2001),
Composer Note:
This work is for all American heroes—and for all those who support them. When I began writing An American Requiem, I, of course, had no idea what would eventually occur on September 11, 2001. Nevertheless, I feel it is appropriate to share with you some of the ideas that precipitated the composition of this work.

My initial interest in writing the piece that became An American Requiem began in 1998 when I started to establish dialogues with American veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the war in Vietnam. It became immediately apparent to me that, in my life, I had completely missed anything having to do directly with the experiences that had shaped, and in some ways, defined the lives of these servicemen. I was born eleven years after the end of World War II and had just entered Oberlin College when the Vietnam War was drawing to a close. And while the war in Southeast Asia and the domestic crises that had pervaded most of the sixties and early seventies was known to me as a child and adolescent, the experiences and their implications were taken in from a distance.

As I continued to conduct these informal interviews, I found myself in the presence of individuals with an integrity and nobility of heart that I had rarely seen in my own generation. I gradually began to understand why such clichéd phrases that I had heard as a child (i.e. “the quality of courage” and “the supreme sacrifice”) had existed in the first place.

Initially, some of what I had experienced in my talks with Vietnam vets proved to be confusing rather than clarifying. Having grown up during Vietnam and in the time of the assassinations of both the Kennedy’s and Martin Luther King Jr., I naturally had a great skepticism about a war that was driven by economic and political agendas. But eventually, I began to understand that regardless of which war was being discussed, there emerged a constant thread throughout my encounters with these veterans: namely their integrity, vigilance, and inner resolve to give of themselves, and indeed, to lay down their lives for their fellow soldiers if the need arose.

Another common insight that the veterans spoke of was their belief in the absolute hellishness and insanity that exists in a state of war. It is still my hope, although it will certainly not occur in our lifetime, that war will be seen as an obsolete alternative to solving the world’s problems. From where I stand, the soldiers who have seen action are perhaps the most qualified to be ambassadors of peace in the world, for it is these individuals who have seen firsthand the darkest side of humanity.

And so, An American Requiem began as both a tribute to the American soldier and an examination of the insanity we call war. In choosing my texts, I sought to juxtapose the personal, private issues that arose out of these campaigns, with the more public, global and philosophical ones. It is for this reason that the work is sung by a large chorus as well as three solo voices; and, it is also for this reason that the work is in two languages. The Latin texts from the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass are usually given to the chorus (while sometimes sung by the soloists), while the American poems that were set are always given to the soloists either individually or in ensemble. The Latin Requiem texts were used not only because they represent a spiritual dimension (involving man’s relationship to a Supreme Being in the face of death), but also because it is an archetypical language traversing both ancient and modern cultures. I also found the invoked images of the Apocalypse and the spiritual hell and fear of annihilation to be an appropriate reflection of the hell on earth that is experienced in war. In some sense An American Requiem is not only about our relationship to war, but also our relationship to death as a part of life.

The texts in English, from Whitman, Emerson, Michael Harper, Hilda Doolittle (known as H.D.) and an anonymous Afro-American spiritual, were chosen to bring these issues into a more personal light. The inclusion of a female soloist—the mezzo-soprano—indicates that the work is not only about soldiers but also about their families, and in essence the witnesses and survivors of such events.

Work on the piece began in Bellagio, Italy (at the Rockefeller Foundation on Lake Como) on September 22, 2000; the orchestration, largely done in New York City, was essentially finished by June 1, 2001, but the entire work was actually not completed until September 20, 2001 in Peekskill, New York. An American Requiem is scored for: Mezzo-soprano, Tenor, Baritone; SATB chorus; 3 flutes (one doubling piccolo, one doubling alto flute), 3 oboes (one doubling English horn), 3 clarinets (one doubling bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (one doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns (two doubling Wagner tubas in F), 3 trumpets in C, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, 5 percussion, piano (doubling celeste), harp, string orchestra, and 6 offstage trombones.

On the early morning of September 11, 2001, I had just opened a package containing the orchestral engraving of An American Requiem to edit for the upcoming premiere. I knew, because of the length of the work (60’) and the large forces required for performing it, that editing would be a long process. The first thing I noticed however was that there was no dedication on the first page. I had evidently not been able to come up with the appropriate words or way to inscribe such a dedication. Around 9:10 am, I called my publisher G. Schirmer to speak with my editor about the issue of the missing inscription, and eventually found myself on the phone with Deborah Horne, who works in the Promotion Department at Schirmer. She explained to me, that just two minutes earlier, she had witnessed from her office window in downtown Manhattan the second of two jets that had exploded into the World Trade Center. In the ensuing days as I edited and finalized the score of my work, I had in the most disquieting and disturbing way found my dedication.

— Richard Danielpour
October 17, 2001

  • Ensemble
    Pacific Symphony Orchestra / Pacific Chorale
    Stephanie Blythe, mezzo-soprano / Hugh Smith, tenor / Mark Oswald, baritone
    Carl St. Clair
    Reference Recordings:
  • 10 MAR 2019
    Milwaukee, Wisconsin
    Bel Canto Chorus of Milwaukee
    Dr. Richard Hynson, conductor
  • 25 OCT 2013
    Kalamazoo, MI
    Western Michigan University
    Bruce Uchimura, conductor

Richard Danielpour's AN AMERICAN REQUIEM is a substantial, deeply felt and honest piece of music in which the composer's gifts for dramatic expression often achieved in a simple but telling way are quite evident, as in his fluent writing for voices that always lies comfortably in the voice's most expressive register. The orchestral writing is expertly done, as it usually is in this composer's highly communicative music. This is a deeply-felt, well-crafted powerfully expressive work.
Hubert Culot,,01/01/0001
With AN AMERICAN REQUIEM, Danielpour aims unequivocally at the grand gesture. The work's theme is the necessity for peace, and man's relationship to war. The orchestration is gorgeous and lavish, the vocal writing romantically lush. The theme, and the poetry is interspersed with sections from the Latin Requiem Mass...It [is] clear that the work is traditional in manner, and the rhetoric associated with oratorio is far from eschewed. It [is] very effective and stirring. It is a brave work and there is much food for thought here. The performance is excellent.
Ivan Moody,,01/01/0001
Danielpour's AN AMERICAN REQUIEM is heroic. With sad pride he looks back at war's toll. [But his] directness can be compelling [and] serves an audience's immediate emotional needs for consolation and inspiration. He uses his resources with careful and dramatic restraint. [He] allows the players the opportunity to make brilliant sounds, and the [settings] for the soloists make the listener understand just how well Danielpour writes for his performers.
Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times,01/01/0001
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