Composer Craig Phillips
Text John Thornburg
Composer's Introduction | Author's Introduction | Description | Text
Voicing SATB chorus, soprano and baritone solos, and orchestra
Released 7/2000 Difficulty Moderately difficult
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--solo violin, 2 viola, 2 cello, bass, 2 horns, 2 bassoons, opt. timpani, harp, organ
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"Finally, there is Craig Phillips' major work, Dies Gratiae: Requiem Reflections. Written on a commission from Keith Weber and Christ Church, Tyler Texas, this work was designed to be a 'companion' to the Fauré Requiem, using the same orchestration as the Rutter/Hinshaw edition and the same choral forces (SATB with baritone and soprano solos). The original text by John Thornburg gives the primary shape, which also has a relationship to the Fauré. Taking the only requiem text not included in that work--Dies irae--Phillips and Thornburg have divided Dies irae into phrases (sung mostly by the solo baritone) as the springboards for Thornburg's original 'reflections' on life, death, death in life, and life in death. Not every AAM member will have the resources or occasion to perform this astonishing work, but there is not one among us who cannot learn from its wisdom. Buy a copy; perform it if you can; in any event, study it and pray through its vision." --AAM Journal, September 2002
Description back to top
This uplifting piece was commissioned to be used with the Fauré Requiem, though it certainly stands on its own as a work of great beauty. Its original text by John Thornburg reflects on the idea of a 'Day of Grace' rather than a 'Day of Judgment' (a fitting conclusion for a program that begins with the Fauré) and its orchestration is the same as for the Fauré, making for a full and complete concert when programmed together (haven't you always struggled with what to program with the Fauré?). The piece is in six movements, each one preceded by a prologue that uses portion of the Dies Irae sequence. The poems/movements that follow are reflections on, or reactions to that portion of the text.
Composer's Introduction back to top
In early 1997 I was approached by Keith Weber with the idea of writing a piece that would serve as a "companion" to the Requiem of Gabriel Fauré. Despite the intimidation factor of such a task, given the stature of the above mentioned work, I felt that it was an excellent idea because of the unusual orchestration employed by Fauré in the original (and most often used) version, and the problem of what to program along with it. Keith commissioned a text by the Dallas poet and theologian John Thornburg, and I set to work in early summer, completing the piece in September of that year. Dies Gratiae received it's premiere on October 31, 1997, at Christ Church, Tyler, Texas, under the direction of Keith Weber; and received a second performance on November 9, 1997, in La Jolla, California.
John Thornburg's text for the work consists of six meditations or reflections on passages from the Dies Irae section of the Requiem Mass, which, incidentally, is the only section that Fauré did not set. Each of the reflections contrast starkly with the Dies Irae sequence texts, which have mostly to do with wrath, judgement, and the like. Thornburg's poems have much more to do with hope, love, and grace (hence the title, "Day of Grace"). I wanted to reflect this inherent dichotomy in the music, and so each movement is given a prologue in which the Dies Irae sections are sung in Latin, often in recitative fashion. The harmonic language employed in the prologue sections and the reflections that follow are intentionally quite different, and meant to further intensify the contrasting nature of the texts.
The work is scored for the same forces used in Fauré's original version of the Requiem (the Rutter edition); divided violas, cellos, and bass; solo violin, 2 horns, 2 bassoons, harp, timpani, and organ. The bassoon parts, unlike the Fauré, are not optional and have several solo passages. Timpani could be omitted, but this is not recommended. The organ provides support in a "continuo-like" fashion, but also has some solo passages and a prominent role in the fourth movement. The viola parts, especially in the first and last movements, have some technical difficulties and require skillful players. Metronome markings have been carefully chosen and should be closely adhered to whenever possible.
Author's Introduction back to top
Imagine the joy of receiving a commission from a trusted colleague and friend to write a series of poems for an extended choral work that would say about life what the Requiem Mass says about death. That has been my joy from the beginning to the end of Dies Gratiae.
When I immersed myself in the text of the requiem mass, I found that the longest and most powerful section is the one entitled, dies irae, or "day of wrath." I then challenged myself to find equally vivid ways of talking about life as we now live it, caught in the tension between life and death, between sin and grace, between the "already" and the "not yet."
I chose several of the most vivid texts from the dies irae section of the mass and asked with each one, "What is the truth about life that stands in tension with the mass' proclamation about death and eternal life?"
In Movement One, the prologue, using a text from the requiem mass, speaks of the dissolution of the world into embers. The first chorus speaks of the moment in which God triumphed so completely that the world could never be the same again. Death is about being covered over with dirt. Life is about the hope which only God can excavate.
In Movement Two, the prologue speaks of the fear and trembling that will grip the earth when the rigorous investigator begins to work. The solo baritone then answers with an expression of another sort of trembling; the trembling that happens when we look inward at moments of despair, depression or indecision. It is when we acknowledge those moments that God is most able to assure us of God's constant presence. The tears spoken of in this movement are autobiographical since I have suffered from depression for several years. The "gentle breeze that shuns the heavy air" is a very real breeze that blows from the north and cools down the place to which I retreat in south Texas.
In Movement Three, the prologue speaks of the trumpet which summons all to the judgment seat. That challenged me to look for an instrument which summons all who hear it to a new understanding of the joy of living. The tiny lungs of an infant turned out to be that instrument. Like most parents I know, there was nothing quite so soothing and joyful for me as listening to the gentle breathing of my infant daughter. She is grown now, but the sacramental quality of those times is still vivid for me.
Movement Four beings with the requiem's assertion that all of nature will be stunned when answering the call of the Judge. Then the question became, "What needs to be stunned more than anything else in this world?" My answer was the status quo. Since Jesus' ministry was entirely taken up with stunning the status quo, it was just a matter of choosing one of the compelling episodes of his ministry. The chorus sings a banal march celebrating the status quo, only to be interrupted by Jesus urging them to go and sell all they have.
Movement Five's prologue speaks of the book which will be brought forth at the Judgment Day containing the names of those to be judged or saved. In our day the Bible is used as a weapon as or more often as it is used as a source of strength, guidance and discernment. I juxtaposed several of the most beloved phrases of the Bible against one another in the attempt to provoke the listener to ask, "Do I value these words and make them part of my life and behavior, or do I only memorize them in order to use them in ideological warfare?"
The prologue of Movement Six speaks of the fact that no wrong will remain unpunished. Just so, God's grace is so inexhaustible that God spends every fiber of God's energy every day, only to awaken the next day ready to guide us. Therefore, we have the opportunity to focus on what God is doing right now in our lives.
I didn't write these poems because I think the requiem mass is a bunch of superstitious nonsense. I revel in the requiem mass and fully believe that there is a central place in Christian theology for talk of the "last things" (death, eternal life, heaven, hell, etc.) I wrote it because God is as active in life as in death. Sacramental moments dot the landscapes of our lives. These texts are meant to chronicle some of those sacramental moments.
Text back to top
Prologue I--Baritone solo
Day of wrath, that day shall dissolve the world into embers, as David prophesied with the Sibyl. (Sung in Latin)
A day once dawned
when women walked in teary silence to a tomb;
and God, who excavates the hope
our fearful hearts conceal,
transformed the vault of death
into the womb of new creation.
we witness birth,
and hear each newborn gasp
for life and breath.
The moment of the gasp is grace.
Prologue II--Soprano solo
How great the trembling bill be, when the Judge shall come, the rigorous investigator of all things! (Sung in Latin)
I did not count on tears,
yet like a gentle breeze
that shuns the heavy air
and brings relief,
to see if underneath my masks
a person could be found.
Disowning all that stalks the entrance
to my private self,
I claimed the still and gentle voice
which said, "I am with you."
since words will not suffice,
my tears are what
my body does to translate
what I know.
Prologue III--Male chorus
The trumpet, spreading its wondrous sound through the tombs of every land, will summon all before the throne. (Sung in Latin)
Reflection III--Violin solo, Soprano solo, semi-chorus
She does not know that I have stolen in
to hear the tender music of her infant breath.
The cares I carried to the threshold of her room,
so dissonant and out of tune,
For I must hear this song.
Death will be stunned, likewise nature, when all creation shall rise again to answer the One judging. (Sung in Latin)
Nothing out of place.
There is no disgrace.
Every line is straight.
Nothing left to fate.
Who would object?
Who could reject?
All is well.
Well and good.
Good and strong.
Strong and safe.
"What must I do to have eternal life?"
All is done.
Done and safe.
Safe and done
"Sell all you have"
All you have.
Prologue V--Baritone solo
A written book will be brought forth, in which all shall be contained, and from which the world shall be judged. (Sung in Latin)
A book has been brought forth;
a Book we thought we knew.
And it was good
The burning bush
A still, small voice
I shall not want
I am the way
My God, my God
We stake our ground and say the Book is ours.
The Author will come forth and say,
"The Book was meant to set you free.
You mock its words,
and make me small.
Now go and meetthe Book again,
and spread your wings,
It will give you flight."
Prologue VI--Soprano solo
When therefore the Judge is seated, whatever lies hidden shall be revealed, no wrong shall remain unpunished. (Sung in Latin)
How weary you must be,
O God of every dusk.
How spent with loving those
the world overlooks.
Yet every dawn you rise as if
it were the freshest moment
of recorded time.
You see the corners of the world
and hear each language spoken there.
When, in our fear, we run away,
you wait with outstretched arms;
the very arms the Nazarene bared
to take the blows of spiteful hate.
And now, Eternal One,
give us the grace to treasure who you are;
to honor what you do,
to live the here and now.
© 2008 Selah Publishing Co., Inc.