On February 20, 2020, the Kiev Symphony Chorus (director Viktoriia Konchakovska) gave a remarkably stellar and impassioned presentation of Requiem for Peace at the illustrious National Philharmonic of Ukraine. The occasion was Remembrance Day of the Heavenly Hundred Heroes; for those who died during the Revolution of Dignity in 2014. (The Euromaidan movement turned into the 2014 Ukrainian revolution which resulted in the removal of the Yanukovych government).
Requiem for Peace has 17 movements entailing 13 languages with poetry from around the world. It is an international call for peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation. It has been presented widely; in Sweden, Germany, Greece, at Carnegie Hall, etc. This was the 27th performance of Larry Nickel’s doctoral thesis. The Requiem for Peace accompaniment has been scored for full symphony orchestra and also for seven piece instrumental ensemble.
1) Listen to the world premiere – featuring over 250 musicians – with full symphony orchestra
2) Listen to the entire Ukraine performance (2020) without interruptions – chamber orchestra
3) Study movements separately with the music score, libretto, audio and video – listed below
4) There are four a cappella movements – available as a set – study the 4 scores while you listen
5) Listen to the CBC radio feature (with interviews)
PRELUDE - "LEAVING RUSSIA"
Larry’s grandparents fled Russia c. 1917 – during the Bolshevik Revolution. The Molotschna Village – inhabited by German speaking Mennonites – was not far away from Kiev, so this performance has special significance and poignancy for the grand-child-become-composer. Peter and Katherine Nickel were given a homestead in Saskatchewan, Canada, where they farmed and raised nine children (in abject poverty). This prelude begins with motifs from the movement “Dulce et decorum” and moves into plaintiff contrapuntal melodies.
footnote: soldiers were still dying (war in Donbass) because of boarder disputes when this performance was given.
1) FRATRES IN UNUM - in Latin
Fratres in Unum (Brothers in Unity) – (Psalm 133) and Ahni Shalom (Psalm 120) are two of the 15 Songs of Ascents – sung by the Hebrew people, while they traveled (ascended) to Jerusalem three times a year for the great feasts. One person would begin singing the Psalm and the others would join in or respond antiphonally. This composition extols the joys of brotherhood (all humankind), while the juxtaposition of major triads at the tri-tone interval reveals the true state of affairs. (dissonance)
2) REQUIEM AETERNUM and 3) LONG BLACK ARM
Requiem Aeternam (Eternal Rest) – I imagined a grim procession out of Oliver Twist; with men, in black top hats, riding a black hearse/carriage, pulled by black horses. Note the tolling of the bell, which reoccurs throughout various movements of the Requiem for Peace. This piece grows from solemnity into anger and segues into Long Black Arm.
Long Black Arm – Wilfred Owen personifies and curses the weapons of war. . The bottom line, howev- er, is clearly directed to those who light the fuse or pull the trigger. The music has an evil and demented mechanical pulse. Britten wrote a powerful setting of this poem in his War Requiem.
4) BUGLES SANG
Bugles Sang is a wonderful Wilfred Owen poem. The music begins with the instruments playing a mournful version of “taps”. “Taps” is a bugle call played at dusk, during flag ceremonies, and at military funerals by the United States Armed Forces. Imagine being a young soldier, perhaps wounded, trying to get some sleep by the riverside while anticipating a day of more violence in the day head.
5) AHNI SHALOM - in Hebrew
Ani Shalom (I Am a Man of Peace), another Psalm of Ascents, is a companion piece to Fratres in Unum. The Hebrew text, “I am sick and tired of living among people who want to fight all the time!”, is presented by the baritone soloist.
6) BAHNI ADAM - in Farsi and Arabic
Bahni Adam (Children of Adam) – by Sa’adi Shirazi, is displayed on a plaque outside the United Nations. This song is projected against the Jewish Psalm, Ahni Shalom, with intentional irony. Both writers, (representing nations that have been at odds for millenniums), yearn for Peace. Also included in this composition; a poem by Ahmad Shawqi, a leading Egyptian man of letters in the early 20th century – from a book called Great Events in the Nile Valley. The English translation is given in a book, by Kenneth Cragg, entitled Jesus and the Muslim. The word “ghazwa”, or “razwatun” is associated in Muslim lore with Muham- mad. According to the Muslim biographies of Muhammad, he conducted many raids (the word can also be translated “military expedition, aggression or conquest”) during his lifetime, and in fact some of the early biographies are simply titled “Maghaazee” — “the military campaigns of the Prophet.”
7) KYRIE ELEISON - in Latin and Greek
Kyrie Eleison (Lord, Have Mercy) A Japanese friend, Kuni Murai, wrote the melody (cantus firmus), heard intermittently in the sopranos, starting at bar 16. The more active tenor line becomes the melody that emerges. A re- cording of this piece was used in a documentary film about the current Japanese military involvement in Iraq.
8) BÊTISE DE LA GUERRE - in French
Bêtise de la Guerre (the Stupidity of War) – Hugo’s novel, Les Misérables, speaks of the power of forgiveness. This poem describes the stupidity and chaotic nature of war. (I’ve attempted to set the lyrics appropriately). Pe- nelope was the faithful wife of Odysseus, who waited for him to return rather than marry any of her handsome but badly-behaved young suitors; I assume she is invoked here because she told the suitors that she would marry one of them when she’d finished weaving a funeral shroud for her father-in-law – but she didn’t want to marry any of them, so what she wove during the day, she unwound every night. In classical literature her labor is a paradigm of endless futility. It’s interesting that she was weaving a shroud — a very appropriate allusion, given the theme of Hugo’s poem. (Thanks to Dr. David Creese for this observation.)
9) BING CHE XING - in Mandarin
Bing Che Xing (Ballad of the Army Carts) – There is a mix of happiness and sadness in this folkish tune; the experience of see- ing young soldiers march through the village would evoke excitement and nationalist fervor – but also concern, sorrow and anger. The song gradually progresses (or digresses) from happiness to sadness – from the patriotic spectacle to the pathetic truth. The pentatonic and Dorian mode flavours help to achieve these mixed emotions. I couldn’t resist a short Elgarian style episode because – speaking of im- perialism! – the Anglo-Chinese Opium Wars surely represent a low point in European history.
10) DVADTSAT VOSYEM SHTÏKOVÏKH - in Russian
Dvatsit Vosyem Shtikovich (28 Bayonet Wounds) One can imagine the rage and hatred of the perpetra- tor. Anna Akmatova was a Russian writer, born in Boshoy Fontan, near Odessa, Ukraine. She was the daughter of a naval engineer. She used her poetry to give voice to the Russian people, to tell of their struggles and yearnings. After Lenin seized power, Anna’s ex-husband was arrested and executed; he was accused of taking part in a plot to overthrow the government. Joseph Stalin gained power in 1924, and from 1925 until 1940, an unofficial ban was placed on Anna’s poetry. She devoted herself to literary criticism and to literary translation work during this time. Even though she enjoyed brief popularity after the war, her poetry was officially banned from publication in 1946. She was also expelled, which meant she didn’t have a ration card. She needed to rely on friends for the rest of her life.
11) HIROSHIMA LACRIMOSA - in Japanese and Latin
Hiroshima Lacrimosa (Tears for Hiroshima) – Japanese is integrated with Latin and two very old melodies in this composi- tion – one European and one Oriental; the Requiem plainchant “Dies Irae” and the familiar Japanese “Sakura”. This poem really touched me on a personal level. My son, Jason, married Yumi. (They have two sons – Atsuya and Kazumoto.) The poet, Sankichi Toge, reveals that he was three kilometers from Ground Zero, and preparing to visit downtown Hiroshima, when the bomb detonated. If he had left a few minutes earlier, Toge would not have survived. Instead, he sustained cuts from shards of glass and radiation sickness, which may have contributed to his early demise. At the age of 29, after the war, he participated in youth and cultural movements and gradually became a leader in the peace movement. He published a number of books opposing atomic bombing and advocating peace. The start of the Korean War intensified pressure from the occupation army against the anti-atomic-bomb movement. Toge protested President Truman’s statement that he would not rule out the use of nuclear weapons in the war. While hospitalized with tuberculosis, he published the book, A-bomb Poetry. When it was sent to the 1951 World Youth Peace Festival in Berlin, as one of Japan’s representative works, A-bomb Poetry gained international acclaim. On March 10, 1953, Toge died at the National Hiroshima Sanatorium.
12) HÅLL FACKLAN HÖGT - in Swedish
Håll Facklan Högt (Hold the Torch High) – is a poem by Pär Lagerkvist. When the Örebro Chamber Choir and Fred Sjöberg (Sweden) decided to present Requiem for Peace, Larry offered to write this special movement for them. Dr. Nickel is happy to writing new movements for choirs that need to have their own tongue represented during their performance.
13) DULCE ET DECORUM - in Latin and English
Dulce et Decorum (Sweet and Honourable) another stunning Wilfred Owen poem, which describes the horrors of combat – one can vividly picture the scene. With seething sarcasm, Owen says, “It is sweet and honorable to die for the Fatherland.” He came to these conclusions, while living through trench warfare during WWI.
14) KINDEREN VAN DE VREDE - In Dutch and German
Kinderen van de Vrede (Children of Peace) This quasi-hymn starts in Dutch, with the words of Menno Simons (who liked to quote Micah 4:3). During the 16th-century, Menno Simons, a reformation leader like Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz, was the Anabaptist founder of the Mennonite denomi- nation. His followers migrated (fled) from Holland to northern Germany (Prussia), then to Southern Russia and then (during the Russian Revolution) to Canada, the States and other parts of the world. Mennonites, who often suffered persecution for their beliefs, once cherished these German lyrics. Paci- fism is a trademark of the Mennonites. Imagine how German speaking Canadian conscientious objec- tors were scorned during World War II.
Reconciliation – Walt Whitman is the favorite poet of my mentor, Dr. Steve Chatman. (e.g. his Proud Music of the Storm) This poem is breathtaking – all by itself. One hesitates to touch such a masterpiece. Music and the performing arts have often helped to expose great literature to the public. “For my en- emy is dead; a man divine as myself is dead.”
16) AGNUS DEI - in Latin
Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) The Agnus Dei was introduced in the Mass by Pope Sergius (687-701) Actually, John the Baptist, upon seeing Christ at the Jordan River, proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36) I once considered ending Requiem for Peace with Fratres in Unum, however, I was persuaded to end with the most powerful statement possible. In my view, the Agnus Dei is the culminating point of any mass; the most optimistic statement of the entire work. This rendition is embellished with other Biblical texts on the subject. I asked my brother, Gordon, to write a homily on the Agnus Dei.