Everyone likes a good Requiem. The form, based originally at least on the Latin Requiem Mass has been fodder for much music-making, from Mozart to Sculthorpe, and Requiems have become a mainstay of the concert hall. Sydney Philharmonia Choirs’ sing Dvořák’s contribution to the genre this weekend while the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra have been having a bit of a Requiem extravaganza recently, with Requiems from the famous Verdi (which has also been done recently in Brisbane and Sydney) to Deborah Cheetham’s Eumeralla. The MSO Chorus is also doing Brahms Ein deutsches Requiem in October. Limelight jumped on the Requiem bandwagon, with Clive Paget’s look at great Requiems earlier this year.
Margaret Throsby. Photo courtesy of ABC Classic
The enthusiasm for Requiems is showing no signs of dying. Margaret Throsby and ABC Classic are getting in on the action, with a five-day series in the 1pm slot presenting Throsby’s favourites. “I was ruminating about the fact that people, audiences, say they love listening to Requiems,” Throsby tells Limelight. “You know, you put a Mozart Requiem on at in the Opera House and everybody goes. Choirs say they love singing Requiems, orchestras say they love performing them – but it just seemed to me that there was such a lot of richness in the musical form of Requiems that it was worth exploring further.”
“I gave myself a really difficult task then, narrowing it down to a five-day series,” she says. “I hope that people don’t beat me about the head because I didn’t put their favourite Requiem in!”
Music and death have long been associated. “If you look deeply, there’s music in just about every culture you can name, associated with rituals following a death,” Throsby says. “From the time we came out of the swamps, really.”
That’s not to say all of the programs will be about death itself. “Some composers made Requiems composed specifically with the living in mind,” she says. “If you think of Fauré’s Requiem, for instance, he composed his Requiem specifically keeping in mind the consolation of people who mourned the person who died. And it was called a ‘Lullaby of Death’ because it was so gentle and shimmering. So it’s not all about death and damnation and hell and all of that, at all. Unless you come to Verdi – I mean, Verdi really is the full catastrophe.”
The series will kick off with Mozart’s Requiem. “There’s such a lot of myth and mystery around Mozart’s Requiem, I thought we’d kick off with that one,” says Throsby, who will pair it with one by Michael Haydn. “We know Joseph Haydn was a great mentor of Mozart, and Michael Haydn was his younger, rather overshadowed, brother. But he was a great composer, and he composed a Requiem for the death of the archbishop of Salzburg.”
Tuesday will see Throsby whip out the Verdi – “people said the Requiem was his greatest opera” – while Wednesday will be Brahms, “which is just the most exquisite work in the whole entire world. I just adore it.”
Thursday will see Fauré’s Requiem paired with Duruflé’s Requiem – “it’s gorgeous, he was very influenced by Gregorian Chant, and you hear that all the way through the work” – and Marc-Antoine Charpentier. “So it’s a French program,” Throsby says.
The Friday slot will be an Australian program, featuring Peter Sculthorpe’s Requiem of 2004. “He wanted it to be his personal prayer for asylum seekers,” Throsby says. “Justice in Australia for asylum seekers, but particularly kids affected by the war in Iraq, so it’s a highly political work.”
Throsby will present the Sculthorpe alongside another Australian Requiem, Missa Solis – Requiem for Eli, written by Nigel Westlake in 2020 in memory of his son Eli, who was murdered at the age of 21. “He stopped composing,” Throsby says. “And then a year or so later he returned to work and he’d been working on a mass for the Melbourne Symphony actually, called Missa Solis, which is a mass to the sun, S U N, and he thought he’d turn it into a mass for his son, S O N, which is beautiful.”
Narrowing the series down to just these Requiems (and some other music to fill in the gaps) was no easy task. “It was very tricky!” Throsby says. “I didn’t include the Berlioz, which I might get criticised for – we might get picked up on that – but it’s not Berlioz’s best music, and I think that’s unarguable.”
“So what we’re getting is a selection, and it’s my selection, and I think it all knits together very nicely,” she says. “I think it’s going to be a really interesting exploration of what is truly a really interesting musical form. I hadn’t realised how interesting it was until I started work on this series, and it’s just been a great revelation for me too.”
Requiem will air on ABC Classic at 1pm Monday to Friday in the week beginning September 23. The series will also be available online, with introductions to each work from Margaret Throsby