There is no doubt in
my mind that this is one of the great
‘unsung’ requiems in the ‘liturgical’
literature. Well, ‘liturgical’ may be
a misnomer, but I will explain later.
I was reminded of the first time I heard
the great Stanford Requiem and
how I could hardly believe my ears.
How has something as good as this lain
unheard for so many years? The same
goes for Wetz’s Requiem. It was,
apparently last heard at a concert in
1943 – in the middle of Germany in the
middle of a World War!
A brief note about
the composer: Richard Wetz was born
in 1875 in Gleiwitz in Upper Silesia.
He studied at the Leipzig Conservatory
before taking up a post in a theatre
in Strasund on the recommendation of
Felix Weingartner. Not long after this
he was introduced to the music of Bruckner
at a concert in Leipzig. This was to
be a major influence on his stylistic
The rest of his life
was spent in the town of Erfurt where
he ‘multi-tasked’ as a teacher, conductor
and composer. In 1906 he was appointed
as Director of the Erfurt Music Society.
He died on 16 January 1935 in his adopted
Few of his compositions
have been recorded and there is little
written about him in English. However
there are the following web references
to provide more background:-
Symphony No. 3 (Sterling)
Symphony No. 2 (CPO)
CPO has performed a
sterling service in recording the superb
symphonies and the Violin Concerto in
B minor. There is also an overture and
song cycle in the catalogue. However
Wetz’s magnum opus appears to be the
There are three critical
things to note about this Requiem
– firstly it is not liturgical, secondly
it is perhaps more of a choral symphony
and finally it is an inspired and perhaps
even visionary work.
There is no way that
this Requiem could be used at
a service of remembrance for the dead.
For one thing the Vatican Fathers in
their infinite wisdom deleted the Dies
Irae from the order of service.
Like Anglican liturgical scholars they
had a tendency to ignore the great and
exalt the pedestrian! Further, Wetz
omits bits and pieces of the text. And
finally one would feel sorry for a bereaved
family having to sit through an hours
worth of music – no matter how glorious!
... and that on top of the hymns and
Wetz was primarily
a symphonist – and for that we can be
grateful. When he turned his attention
to the liturgy he did not put his formal
preferences on one side. Seen in the
context of symphonic form this Requiem
is almost Mahlerian in its stature.
Five great ‘movements’ lead us towards
a satisfying and spiritually uplifting
peroration. There seems to be cross-referencing
of themes – although without the score
it is hard to see just how cyclic the
work actually is. The composer makes
a great use of orchestral interludes
– sometimes lasting for minutes with
the soloists and chorus sitting quietly
as the orchestra reflects on past and
Finally the listener
can hardly fail to sense the degree
of autobiography in this music. We do
not know much about Richard Wetz’s private
life – but every page of this score
seems to breathe personal experience
and reflection. It was composed after
the First World War, in the 1920s, at
a time when the memory of the horrors
of that conflict were still fresh. Germany
was sliding into economic chaos and
the first stirrings of a new evil were
on the horizon.
Could this work be
classified as a War Requiem? Possibly,
but perhaps it is more a vehicle for
Wetz exploring the depths of his soul.
The music is certainly marked with ‘scars
of grief,’ but, more vitally, there
is a great hope here too.
The performance is
excellent – although I feel that the
soprano soloist could have been a bit
stronger. The recording is up to the
usual superb CPO standards. However
the programme notes have suffered somewhat
in translation from the German – they
become quite stodgy, or is it impenetrable,
In summary, this is
a fine and most moving work that deserves
to be heard much more often. It is definitely
a ‘concert’ work as opposed to a liturgical
one. I can imagine it being performed
to great effect in Coventry Cathedral.
I do hope one of the great orchestras
and choruses takes up this work before