The above audio is from the "Dies irae" of Toby Twining's Chrysalid Requiem (Cantaloupe Music, 2002).
It is twelve years since I finished composing Chrysalid Requiem — a setting of the Latin funeral service, plus the "Libera me" and "In paradisum" from the burial service. Rather than the commemoration of someone’s death, I found other reasons for the project. The Latin words sing beautifully, cry for a wildly imaginative setting and resonate with layers of metaphor that suggest a complex musical fabric.
I also composed a requiem because, like many people, I yearn for new meaning in our culture’s worn-out rites of passage. The urgency of new music — that is, its capacity to express and answer simultaneously the collective yearnings of our time — sheds unexpected light on old truths. So it would seem important for experimental composers to take on the challenge of traditional texts. If the old metaphors are truly worthy, unexpected nuances will emerge.
In retrospect, I know that wrestling with the formidable text of the requiem drove me to compose in ways I could not imagine otherwise. For example, I understood the epic poem "Dies irae" as allegory for personal transformation through cataclysm generally — the dark night of the soul — rather than as a prophetic vision of the world’s end and final judgement. Grappling with this poem led me to discover a technique which remains interesting to me — the music modulates microtonally to a pivotal pitch, then takes a detour back toward its beginning, precisely when the universe collapses in on itself. I only discovered this when I reworked the notation of the score several years after composing it.
So, while the urgency of new music has something to say with the words and metaphors of our historical rites, these in turn have something to say to new music and can inspire musical invention.