Requiem - Bob Chilcott (1955 - )


1.   Introit and Kyrie

2.   Offertorio

3.   Pie Jesu

4.   Sanctus and Benedictus

5.   Agnus Dei

6.   Thou knowest, Lord

7.   Lux aeterna

Bob Chilcott is one of the busiest and most popular figures in British choral music. His musical experience began as a boy chorister and then as a tenor choral scholar in the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, and continued as singer, composer and arranger with the celebrated King’s Singers. Since 1997 he has worked as a full-time composer and conductor, spending much of his time promoting choral music in this country and abroad, especially in the USA. At home he is currently Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Singers.

Bob Chilcott’s singing experience has given him an inside knowledge of an exceptionally wide range of music and this is reflected in the eclectic nature of his own compositions which, whilst remaining within the mainstream English choral tradition, are variously inspired by folksongs, Gregorian chant, Anglican hymns and psalms, spirituals, jazz, close-harmony, gospel and African music.

The Requiem was jointly commissioned by Music at Oxford, the Oxford Bach Choir and Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church, Dallas, Texas, and first performed in this country and the USA in 2010. It is scored for soprano and tenor soloists, chorus, organ and orchestra. The text is the Latin Missa pro Defunctis, the Mass for the Dead, with the addition of the prayer, ‘Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts’ from the Book of Common Prayer. The work is dedicated to the memory of the composer’s niece, Samantha Verschueren, who tragically died at the age of only twenty-three whilst the piece was being written.

Chilcott’s principal influences when writing this work were the requiems of Fauré and Duruflé, which he sang regularly whilst at King’s. The most obvious parallel between those two works and this one is the Pie Jesu, which like them features a solo soprano, but the harmonies and melodic lines of Chilcott’s Requiem also suggest that Fauré and Duruflé were never far away from him. He omits the more forbidding parts of the traditional Latin text, notably the Dies Irae, his declared intention being to create a contemplative setting appropriate for either a concert or a liturgical context. The music bears the usual Chilcott hallmarks: strong rhythms, lyrical melodies, and the influence of jazz elements, though in this particular work the jazz influence is for the most part only subtly hinted at. 

The Introit and Kyrie opens over a gently pulsing accompaniment, initially in the dark key of F minor, but moving into the major for ‘et lux perpetua’. The pace quickens slightly at the tenor soloist’s entry, ‘Te decet hymnus’, after which the opening material returns, with the addition this time of the soprano soloist. The tenors and basses of the choir introduce the Offertorio, which begins urgently, building to a climax at ‘Libera me’. A gentler tempo ushers in an extended tenor solo at ‘Hostias et preces tibi’. This eventually leads into the Pie Jesu, a simple, lyrical aria for the soprano soloist, supported by a subdued choral accompaniment. Jazz elements now come to the fore in the Sanctus and Benedictus, with its dissonant harmonies, irregular dancing rhythm and driving energy. The choir’s role in the Agnus Dei is again that of accompanist, this time to another expansive tenor solo. Chilcott next inserts a reflective setting for the choir of the prayer, Thou knowest, Lord, from the Book of Common Prayer. The Lux aeterna is a re-working of the music from the first movement, with the soprano soloist’s final phrase ascending heavenward and bringing the Requiem to a serene close.

John Bawden


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