The Requiem is delightful,
which I suppose is the problem, really.
The modern listener has learnt to take
in his stride the fact that Pergolesi’s
Stabat Mater has some strangely jolly
movements along the way, since it also
has some gravely moving ones. Likewise,
Vivaldi could spin florid vocal acrobatics
by the yard over a dancing bass-line,
but he could also write choruses with
patches of lacerating, almost visionary
chromatic harmony. Hasse’s Requiem begins
and mostly continues – there are a couple
of gravely impressive alto arias later
on – in the manner of the lighter movements
by the composers I’ve mentioned. Bernard
Shaw, who spent much of his time as
a music critic sniffing out Requiems
and railing against them, might have
found this one rather amusing. It’s
all very attractive but it doesn’t sound
the way we expect a Requiem to sound
– the manner is suited enough when the
Sanctus and Benedictus arrive, of course.
It had me reflecting on the strange
fact that no Requiem satisfying to modern
ears seems to have been produced between
Victoria and Mozart. It makes you wonder
if the baroque idiom was inherently
unsuited to writing one.
And yet, poor souls,
not to be able to write a Requiem if
you need one! And why should the language
that comes naturally to you not be good
enough if you feel it that way? Is there
anything inherently sillier about writing
a florid, fluent, bouncing baroque Requiem
than there is about writing one in the
style of grand opera (Verdi) or the
Broadway musical (Andrew Lloyd Webber)?
And if we’re going
to make a talking point out of this
Requiem, then are we quite sure that
gravely held minor chords sound sad,
and lively music in the major key sounds
happy, because it is so, or because
we have been taught that it is
so, or have been conditioned by
works which are traditionally labelled
and so on, to suppose that others adopting
the same manner must have the same character?
Could there not be a looking-glass world
somewhere in which you play the Widor
Toccata at funerals and Nimrod at weddings?
If nothing else, this Requiem of Hasse’s
should make you think.
There’s another oddity,
though. The opening two movements of
the Miserere have all the stabbing gravity
we would expect of a Requiem. The music
then proceeds from darkness to light
in a manner which is wholly satisfying.
This really would be a useful acquisition
for the repertory as an alternative
to similar pieces by Vivaldi and the
like. Which makes the Requiem all the
The presentation –
performance, notes, texts, translations
and recording – are everything they
should be. Why not give it a try?
see also review
by Paul Shoemaker