Commissioned by The Liverpool Culture Company Limited as part of the 2008 European Capital of Culture Programme for performance by Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, Vasily Petrenko conductor.
The essence of this Requiem is contained in the words “Our glory lies where we cease to exist”. That is, when one’s false self is extinguished, the true self shines forth, and we have, in a way, become one with God. But this realisation is beyond almost all human beings, which is why religion exists, and why the perennial truth of all the great religious traditions centres on this concept. The absolute freedom that results from this oneness can only belong to the being that, liberated from the conditions of manifested existence, has become absolutely one with its principal and its origin. The seventh movement of the Requiem is a musical expression of this, and the preceding movements a journey towards it.
Today, the different religious traditions are often in conflict with each other, but inwardly every religion is the doctrine of the self and its earthly manifestations. That is to say there is only ONE BEING: minerals, animals, plants and human beings are all part of that self. This is the meaning of Advaita Vedanta expounded in the Upanishads “Ēkam evādvitīyam” (the ONE without a second) which is sung in movements three and five. The purpose of our existence in this world is precisely to understand the true nature of what we are.
This work, which contains sections from the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass, lines from the Koran and Sufi texts, and Hindu words from the Upanishads and other sources, was written for performance in a vast cruciform space. The cross, an intersection of two dimensions, thus represents the intersection of the temporal with the eternal. The work is in 7 movements, and the musical construction, like the spatial requirement, is geometric and symetrical. The first three movements mirror the last three in that they have the same duration, and material in common. The fourth movement, Kali’s Dance, is at the centre, and it is based on an Indian Mohara (or rhythmic pattern) which “dances” throughout.
The solo cello should sit at the centre of the cathedral. In the far East End are the choir and brass, while in the far West End are the strings, solo treble and solo tenor. In the North and South are the Tibetan temple bowls, gongs and tam-tam, and two sets of timpani with the pow-wow drum. The audience should sit within these forces.
The solo cello symbolises the Primordial Light which, we are told, appears at death and journeys with us towards the state of oneness, or Paradise. The cello travels towards that oneness through the extinction and total annihilation of the false self (or Ego), which is represented symbolically by the central fourth movement, Kali’s Dance/Dies Irae. This ferocious “cosmic dance” juxtaposes an almost Tantric adoration and extinction in the fiercely beautiful Goddess Kali (whom Ramakrishna “saw” manifest as The Supreme Being), with the Judgement of Christ in the Dies Irae. Then, after a serene and then ecstatic Interlude, harking back to the second movement, the seventh and final movement pulsates with settings of Ahām Āsmi, Ehyēh Ashēr Ehyēh, Eghō imī O ON, and Ana al Haqq in Sanskrit, Hebrew, Greek and Arabic respectively: “I am that – I am God”.
Preview the score: