Beautiful Music

“Requiem for the Living”

The text below is the lyrics and Dan Forrest explaining his “Requiem for the Living.”

“Overall, the work is a prayer for rest (“Requiem”) for the living, as much as for the deceased. It’s a ‘grant US rest’, even more than a ‘grant THEM rest’.

The whole work is tied together motivically by the opening three notes that you hear- they form the basis of all the development in the first movement, the pitch material of the accompaniment figure in the second movement (alluding to the traditional Dies Irae plainchant, even though I’m not using the Dies Irae text), the opening of the fourth movement (obviously) where the descent goes one note farther, and starts to find a destination/goal/’rest’ if you will), the recap moments throughout the fifth movement, and then, in one last gesture, the final three notes of the entire work are those three pitches, now ascending (instead of descending), as if reaching the heavens.

The first movement pours out the grief of the Requiem and Kyrie prayers, facing grief head-on and grappling with the sorrow that is common to all human existence.

1. Introit – Kyrie
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Exaudi orationem meam,
ad te omnis caro veniet.
Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.

Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
Hear my prayer, for unto Thee all flesh shall come.
Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy;
Lord have mercy.

The second movement bitterly portrays the problem of pain that we all wrestle with, and which causes a crisis of faith for many people. It expounds on the ‘vanity of vanities, all is vanity’ refrain from Ecclesiastes, with no small amount of anger and bitterness and ‘rage against the machine’. The middle section quotes Job, who is the best biblical example we have of the problem of pain, and even he says, in his darkest moment, it would have been better if I hadn’t been born.

2. Vanitas Vanitatum
Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas!
Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem.
et locutus est, pereat dies in qua natus sum.

Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!
(from Ecclesiastes)
Merciful Lord Jesus, grant them rest.
Full of tears,
(from the Dies Irae)
he said, Let the day perish wherein I was born.
(from Job 3:2-3)

The third movement is the Agnus Dei, out of its traditional order, because at that point in the narrative, I need to see the Lamb of God, who died to redeem mankind from all fallenness- this vanity and pain and sorrow and destruction.

3. Agnus Dei
(Soprano solo)
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis, dona eis requiem.
(Choir, and solo)
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
dona nobis pacem, miserere nobis,
dona eis requiem.

Lamb of God,
who takes away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us; grant them rest.

Lamb of God,
who takes away the sins of the world,
grant us peace; have mercy on us; grant them rest.

It’s only after recognizing the Lamb of God that we can then turn, in this narrative, to the Sanctus. It becomes a response to the Agnus Dei, instead of prelude to it as in the normal liturgical order. Interestingly, I see the phrase ‘heaven and earth are full of Thy glory’ as not merely a worship moment, but actually a part of the Divine answer to the problem of pain. Looking to Job again, God’s answer to the problem of pain is literally, “Look at my works of creation- see my transcendent power and majesty” and of course Job is then humbled by the realization. So my vocal score includes a quote of Job 38 at the top of this movement- where God says to Job ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth…when the stars sang together for joy?’ As you can see, then, this movement depicts the wonder of the heavens and earth (pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua) as a Divine answer to the problem of pain. My setting of the Sanctus text is literally a depiction of God’s wondrous glory in three different places: the universe (inspired by that Ultra Deep Field picture from the Hubble Telescope), earth as viewed from the orbiting International Space Station (there are fantastic videos on Youtube where you can see the lights of cities (and nations!) at night, territorial boundaries, rivers, the northern lights, thunderstorms, and all sorts of things), and finally, mankind, God’s wondrous image-bearers, who demonstrate his glory even more directly than all the rest of the wonders of the heavens. There are three sections to the piece which are inspired by these three thoughts- an ethereal section for the Hubble image, a warmer section that starts to “come down to earth” with more motion that eventually grows very majestic, and then a bustling energetic final section, coming right down into the middle of a city, teeming with the life and energy of a metropolis full of these image-bearers who are an even more wondrous part of creation than the heavens themselves.

4. Sanctus
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus,
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis!

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.
Hosanna in the highest!

The final movement is simply an arrival at rest and peace, not just in the realization of the ‘eternal light’ which God offers those who seek him, but even here and now, for us, the living, on earth- our Requiem, our Rest, is found in Christ. I purposely quoted ‘Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you….REST’, because it’s the answer to the Introit’s prayer for rest. The answer to that prayer is already given, there, in Matthew 11- Christ is our rest. I purposely, then, lined up the English word ‘rest’ with the return of the Latin word ‘Requiem’ in this final movement- you can see it in the score, or hear it in the performance when the tenor solo ends and the choir begins again, ‘Requiem aeternam’.

5. Lux Aeterna
(Soprano solo, and choir)
Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine:
Cum sanctis tuis in aeternum: quia pius es.
Et lux perpetua luceat eis.

May light eternal shine upon them, O Lord,
in the company of Thy saints forever:
for Thou art merciful.
Let perpetual light shine on them.

(Tenor Solo)
Come unto me,
all ye who labor and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest.

(Matthew 28:19)

(Choir, and soprano solo)
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Dona nobis pacem.

Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
Grant us peace.”

Calvino on reading the Classics

. . . to read a great book for the first time in one’s maturity is an extraordinary pleasure, different from (though one cannot say greater or lesser than) the pleasure of having read it in one’s youth. Youth brings to reading, as to any other experience, a particular flavor and a particular sense of importance, whereas in maturity one appreciates (or ought to appreciate) many more details and levels and meanings.

A Classic Fundamentalist and Popular Culture

When it comes to responses to popular culture, it is common to read or hear people make a distinction between a classical fundamentalist and a cultural fundamentalist. People tend to describe a classical fundamentalist as someone concerned only with doctrine and they claim that classical fundamentalists of the early 20th century were concerned only with doctrine. Conversely, people tend to describe cultural fundamentalists as those who later added cultural taboos to doctrinal concerns. These people now exhort present-day fundamentalists to return to the days of classical fundamentalism, so that the focus is only on doctrine (actually, only five doctrines) with little to no concern for such cultural things as music, dancing, or drinking. Let’s take a look at a classical fundamentalist and see if these modern-day definitions and exhortations relative to the past are correct.

Reuben Archer Torrey was a writer, editorial committee member, and later chief editor of The Fundamentals in the early 20th century. By his own admission, R.A. Torrey had at one time espoused higher critical views of Scripture. He eventually denounced higher criticism and admitted he had been wrong. After doing so, he publicly countered liberal theology and later became involved in grassroots fundamentalism, not only by his writings in and editorship of The Fundamentals, but also through his involvement with W.B. Riley’s World Christian Fundamentals Association. R.A. Torrey was a classical fundamentalist.

Throughout his years of ministry, Torrey had the privilege of preaching across the United States and around the world. He became known not only for his plain, clear manner of preaching the gospel, but also for his unequivocal denouncement of the popular cultural enticements of his day.

“In no uncertain terms he denounced dancing, card-playing, theatre-going, drinking, and smoking, for he himself had once engaged in these worldly pleasures and he knew thoroughly their pernicious effect upon the spiritual life of the Christian. Again and again he was criticized for declaring the truth regarding these things, but . . . he did not hesitate to utter it” (Torrey and Alexander: the story of a world-wide revival, George Thompson Brown Davis, 248).

In his book On Prayer (found here and here), Torrey answered such questions as “Should Christians dance?” or “Should Christians go to the movies?” with the question “Will it please God more for me to go than for me to stay away?” He wrote that indulging in such things as dancing and movie going “does not please God, and therefore they rob prayer of power. . . . If there is anything, no matter how innocent it may be in itself, or how much can be said in its defense, that robs prayer of power, I am going to give it up.” Torrey continued, “The Christian who dances, goes to the theater, plays cards, attends movies, and does a multitude of other things that are not pleasing to God, cannot be a man or woman of power in prayer.” In that same book Torrey recognized that “None of us can be conscience for someone else. However, they are not at all difficult to decide if we decide on the Bible basis of doing things that would please our Father, and leaving undone those things that would not please Him.”

In a biography of R. A. Torrey (R.A. Torrey: Apostle of Certainty, Roger Martin) this issue of popular cultural taboos and personal conscience as it relates to classical fundamentalism is nicely summed up on page 147.
“Speaking on topics such as smoking, dancing, gambling, and drinking . . . met with considerable resistance, because a large share even of Christians engaged in at least some of these activities. The people regarded these as ‘conscience questions.’ Torrey agreed. And when questioners asked him, ‘Are not these things wholly a matter of the individual conscience?’ Torrey replied, ‘Yes, and that is where I am trying to put it – on your conscience’!”