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Carl Rütti

Publisher: Novello & Co

Requiem (2007)
Dedicated to David Hill and The Bach Choir London
Novello & Co Ltd
Chorus and Orchestra/Ensemble
Year Composed
55 Minutes
Bass, Soprano
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Programme Note
Carl Rütti Requiem (2007)
Carl Rütti’s Requiem (2007) was first performed by The Bach Choir under David Hill, with the Southern Sinfonia, Jane Watts (organ), Katharine Fuge (soprano) and Edward Price (baritone), in Winchester Cathedral on 16th February 2008.

Carl Rütti was delighted and honoured when, in 2005, he was approached by The Bach Choir and asked to write a Requiem. Although he had already written several pieces on the subject of death, he knew that he was undertaking one of the most daunting tasks facing any composer. “When it was suggested that I write a Requiem for The Bach Choir I hardly dared accept the challenge, but then I remembered the losses in my own life. There is only one thing a human being faces for sure: death. No words are strong enough to express the feelings of the bereaved, nor sufficient to explain what will await us after death. Music may be the most appropriate language – therefore it is a huge challenge for a composer.”

The original commission was for a twenty-minute piece, but by 2007, when the Requiem was completed, this had grown to around an hour. With the idea that the work should be accessible to as many choirs as possible, The Bach Choir asked for the same orchestration as the Fauré Requiem – strings, harp and organ – as well as a version with organ accompaniment only. Rütti did not miss the huge forces with off-stage trumpeters and vast arrays of percussion used by some composers when expressing the complex text of the Requiem Mass; he was content that everything he wished to say could be communicated through more slender forces. A violinist from the age of five, a concert organist, and having composed for his sister, who is a harpist, Rütti was familiar with the demands of these instruments. Moreover he was keen to experiment with the percussive effects that could be generated from other instruments, particularly the strings.

Writing for double choir with soprano and baritone soloists, Rütti chose to set seven movements of the Latin Requiem Mass. His aims were twofold: first, he wanted to express the feelings of the bereaved – feelings of grief, despair, fury, but also comfort; and second, he tried to foresee the moment of passing away. The Requiem begins and ends a cappella, sung by one solo voice to symbolize, as Rütti explains, “that we enter and leave life weak and alone”. Rütti’s intention in the Introitus is that the soprano soloist and – ad libitum – first choir begin some distance away from the second choir, the two elements moving closer together as they sing.

In the Kyrie the initial prayer for pity is transformed into a cry for pity. Conflicting rhythms are heard simultaneously, the orchestra driving the music along in a steady two beats to the bar while the voices sing in three. The double chorus is used antiphonally, coming together at the climaxes.

The Offertorium expresses the moment of death and Rütti draws on music from his Pavane (1997), in which the theme was the soul meeting God after death. The music here is passionate, with driving rhythms and hard-hitting harmony, creating a sense of fear. This is the closest he gets to a Dies irae, a setting which he wanted to avoid as it did not concur with his idea of God. The moment of facing God is introduced by the very distant baritone solo, reminding us of the promises God gave to Abraham. This is the first of three occurrences of this central melody. In the final section of the Offertorium the organ, which has an individual virtuoso part throughout the work, is used to symbolize God appearing to the soul after death.

At the centre of the seven movements, the Sanctus again makes specific use of the organ, this time to aid the strings in describing the ladder between heaven and earth on which angels rise and fall as Jacob saw it in his dream (Genesis 28, 12); this is a wonderful parable for the close interrelation between heaven and earth, life and eternity. The Benedictus re-uses the baritone solo melody from the Offertorium, this time accompanied and a little less distant.

The Agnus Dei acts as a striking contrast to the other movements. Scored for soloists, reduced strings and harp only, Rütti expresses the lamb as the most defenceless animal symbolizing Christ. This movement is written in memory of two of Rütti’s close friends, singers from Cambridge Voices, a choir with which he continues to work closely. Cambridge Voices gave the first performances of many of Rütti’s earlier works, notably Songs of Love and Verena die Quelle, and his idea was to introduce the style of music of these earlier compositions into the Agnus Dei.

The Communio begins by alternating gently flowing strings with long, luminous chords for the choir on Lux aeterna; within that sound the listener is given a taste of something beyond. Rütti was inspired by the river as an ancient symbol of the way from life to eternity, and this movement achieves a sense of calm, indicating that the drama is coming to an end. The painting Isle of the Dead, by the symbolist Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901), exerted a strong influence over Rütti, as it had previously inspired other composers, notably Rachmaninov and Reger.

The captivating melody, already heard in the Offertorium and Benedictus, permeates the final movement, In Paradisum, building to the biggest climax of the work. Rütti’s intention was to depict the singers escorting the deceased as he is carried on his last journey to the cemetery, and he drew on his experience of the funeral of his father-in- law, at the end of which the coffin was carried out by the villagers.

As the music fades, the choir accompanies the soloists as if with its last breath. Gradually the voices become fewer – the heart is failing – and we hear the song of a blackbird, something of a lucky charm for Rütti, and here used as a symbol of life after death. The work ends as the soprano soloist walks into the distance – into heaven – and her sound soars into the atmosphere.

Katharine Richman

Read an interview with Carl Rütti

  • Conductor
    David Hill
  • Ensemble
    The Bach Choir; Southern Sinfonia
    Olivia Robinson, soprano; Edward Price, baritone; Janet Watts, organ
    David Hill
…a large part of the success of the work lies in its scoring for double chorus, lending the writing a richness of texture and, where appropriate, the opportunity for antiphonal exchanges. Rütti’s broadly tonal writing – it’s sort of English choral tradition inflected with elements from jazz and blues with a dash of Messiaen-inspired mysticism (Rütti is also an organist) – delivers singable lines for all sections of the chorus… Novello’s vocal score lives up to the high standards set by other publications in its ongoing choral edition; and it’s heartening to see, amid the new editions of all the choral society favourites, the company investing in contemporary choral music in such a positive way – three cheers for them!
Philip Reed, Choir & Organ Magazine,01/05/2010
…Though there is a definite “British choral” influence on Rütti’s style, there are also Eastern European and Baltic characteristics that all combine to produce his personal voice. The resulting blend produces a truly wonderful mix of the practical melodic and modal character of much British music, and the poignant mysticism of many Baltic composers. The work begins and ends evocatively with an unaccompanied soprano solo, which the composer intends to represent the soul “alone before God.” Particular highlights of the work include the transcendently beautiful choral writing in the mostly unaccompanied Introitus that follows the opening soprano solo. The powerful and urgent Kyrie is extremely memorable. The most extended movement is the central Offertorium, which is packed with spine-tingling climaxes and textures. A memorable recurring motive throughout the whole Requiem is a sequence of shifting chords with false relations on the word “Jerusalem”; it is particularly glorious…. Perhaps what is most impressive to me about Rütti’s piece is how much genuine musical interest and variety he creates, despite the small forces. In terms of the creative spirit (though only rarely the actual sound of the music), James MacMillan’s seminal early pieces, such as Seven Last Words, are called to mind….. Though I was somewhat “jaded” upon receiving the disc to see yet another new Latin Requiem by a contemporary composer, Rütti’s superb piece completely won me over. I cannot say enough in praise of this work, which is one of the finest Requiem settings of our time; I am absolutely convinced it will join the great ones from the past.
Carson Cooman, Fanfare,01/02/2010
The Bach Choir commissioned Rütti’s Requiem (2007), scored for double choir and the same pair of soloist and orchestral forces (strings, harp, organ) as the Fauré Requiem, with the expressed intention that the work be as accessible to as may choirs as possible. This recording, with virtually the same team who gave the premiere in Winchester in 2008, is exemplary both in terms of engineering and performance….
Philip Reed, Choir and Organ,01/01/2010
Strings, harp and organ – the original Bach Choir commission for this Requiem specified the work should be for the same forces as Fauré’s masterpiece. Carl Rütti’s finished product, however, feels an altogether bigger-boned, more explicitly dramatic composition: nowhere in the Fauré is there anything approaching the ferocity of the wrenching string writing introducing the Kyrie, nor the surgingly operatic imprecations of its soprano and baritone soloists. In stark contrast, the work both begins and ends a cappella, the soprano symbolising, as Rütti comments, “that we enter and leave life weak and alone”. These are arrestingly imagined, moving moments. Rütti’s idiom is hard to describe without making it sound derivative – broadly tonal, certainly, but even at its most obviously ‘accessible’ (in the intimately lyrical Agnus Dei) with enough happening texturally and harmonically to interest a more sophisticated palette. Some of the string writing (in the Communio, for instance) does recall Fauré, but with a more troubled undertow, and overall Rütti’s voice is unquestionably distinctive. The Bach Choir has clearly taken this Requiem to its collective heart... and performs it with involving fervency under the experienced direction of David Hill.
Terry Blain, BBC Music Magazine,01/12/2009
The music of Swiss composer Carl Rütti seems to have gained considerable ground in the repertoires of British and American choirs in recent years, and this setting of the Requiem shows just why. He has a gift for finding a memorable ‘hook’ to trigger a section – and, in this case, the entire work, which begins with a haunting soprano solo, beautifully sung by Olivia Robinson – and a clear connection to the English choral tradition (he studied in London in fact). The orchestration is the same as that of the Fauré Requiem, and that is not the only resemblance between the two works: there is frequently a wistful gentleness here that any admirer of the French composer’s work will respond to. Rütti also does not include the ‘Dies Irae’, but he does set the ‘In Paradisum’....
Ivan Moody, Gramophone,01/12/2009
This release is an event in the choral world: a fine new Requiem to add to the repertoire, with challenging yet accessible lines for double choir, glorious passages for soloists and an accompaniment adaptable to available forces.
Stephen Pritchard, The Observer,11/10/2009
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