Alex Ambrose is a producer for Q2 Music, WQXR’s online station and website devoted to discovery, curiosity and vibrant 21st-century music.
Music by Viktors Bastiks, Valentin Silvestrov and Wojciech Kilar
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Over the next few weeks, as we listen to your requiem suggestions and start to sketch out the 9/11 anniversary weekend programming, a ton of new music will be crossing our desks. But some of our recent discoveries are simply too moving to wait an additional moment before sharing.
Sometimes the context of a piece's composition is so unimaginably sad that it adds irreversible poignancy. Sometimes the texture is so beautiful, you're surprised it could have existed so long without your knowing. And sometimes a piece opens its arms so warmly that you just want to pull all your friends into its embrace. Here are a few pieces that were new and inspiring to me and hopefully will be for you as well.
Viktors Bastiks (b. 1912, Skatre, Latvia - d. 2001, Philadelphia, USA): Requiem
Composer Viktors Bastiks fled his native Latvia when it was annexed by the Soviet Union following World War II; he ultimately settled in Philadelphia, where he made his living as a factory worker. He devoted his spare time to composing, organizing vocal festivals and conducting the Latvian Baptist Church.
He wrote his Requiem in 1979 and instead of using the Latin text, Bastiks adopted Bible verses, poetry and folk songs in Latvian. It's one of his almost 300 sacred works and it's clear he has a gift for unclouded, lyrical lines. In the Requiem's "In the Garden of Peace" (excerpted above, and dedicated to the memory of those lost fighting for Latvia), the soprano line emerges quietly and redemptively from the depths of the male choir... It's an absolutely captivating moment, and I must admit to being mildly obsessed with it.
Valentin Silvestrov (b. 1937, Kiev, Ukraine): Requiem for Larissa
In his essay for the ECM release of Silvestrov's piece, musicologist Paul Griffith describes the requiem as an "artistic inevitability" for the composer – Silvestrov’s sound always seems to harken to a past age, where Romantic effusions emerge and then disperse, where Mozartian melodies drift in only to evaporate as they start to take shape.
Silvestrov began writing his Requiem in 1997, a year after his wife of more than 30 years, musicologist Larissa Bondarenko, passed away suddenly. It took him three years to finish the piece, and he felt the requiem would be his last artistic statement. It was as if a voice that always teetered on the edge of silence, had finally disappeared altogether – even the vocal lines of his Requiem sigh and fade before full utterance. (Silvestrov ultimately did return to large-scale composition, four years after completing the Requiem.)
The “Agnus Dei,” excerpted below, is an arrangement of his piano piece, Der Bote (The Messenger).
Wojciech Kilar (b. 1932, Lwow, Poland): Requiem Father Kolbe
If you've already heard of Wojciech Kilar, it's most likely as a film composer: He's written soundtracks for Francis Ford Coppola (Dracula), Roman Polanski (Death and the Maiden) and Jane Campion (Portrait of a Lady). However, in his native Poland, Wojciech is a highly regarded, award-winning symphonic composer -- known for his grinding, elegiac string lines and ethereal woodwinds -- and an advocate for contemporary music.
In 2003, Kilar composed his Symphony No. 3, "September Symphony" in honor of 9/11 and his friend, conductor Antoni Wit. However, I was drawn immediately to the heavy momentum of his Requiem Father Kolbe (excerpted below), which grew from his score for Polish director Krzysztof Zanussi's film A Life for a Life. The film tells the true story of Father Maximilien Kolbe, once the center of Polish religious life and at the helm of one of Poland's most successful publishing houses – he died of poison injection on August 14, 1941 in the concentration camp at Auschwitz.
Are there stories behind some memorial works that you'd like to share? Tell us in a comment below.