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ClassicsOnline Home » BEVERIDGE: Yizkor Requiem
Yizkor Requiem: A Quest for Spiritual Roots seeks to
combine the memorial services of the Jewish and Catholic religions. The title
reflects the first words of the Yizkor Service and the Requiem Mass: The Hebrew
word "yizkor" means "may He remember," the whole initial
phrase being "Yizkor Elohim et nishmat" ("May God remember the
soul of..."); the Latin word "requiem" means "rest,"
from the initial phrase "Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine"
("Rest eternal grant them, Lord").
The Yizkor Service is not a funeral ritual, but a memorial
service celebrated on a handful of occasions during the year in the synagogue,
notably in the afternoon on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. At that time all
who have ever suffered the loss of loved ones, particularly of parents,
participate in these prayers and recitations. The Requiem Mass is intended for funeral
or memorial services, but it is certainly used for memorials of a more general
nature, especially in the concert settings of the great masters. The
inspiration to write Yizkor Requiem came to me when my father, Lowell Beveridge,
passed away in 1991 - the "requiem aeternam" theme actually came to
me the very day of his death. A year and a half later, my mother, Ida, died, and
the work is dedicated to the memory of both my parents.
In 1994, I conducted the premiere performance of Yizkor
Requiem, by the New Dominion Chorale, of which I am the Artistic Director
There have been several performances since then in Washington, Chicago and New
York, the most important of which was at the Concert Hall of the John F Kennedy
Center for the Performing Arts, by The Choral Arts Society of Washington under
the direction of Norman Scribner, in Apri11996. This compact disc is a
recording of that live performance at the Kennedy Center.
My decision to interweave themes from the Jewish and
Christian faiths was inspired by Lowell Beveridge's own "quest for
spiritual roots," The first half of his career was spent in New York,
where he was on the Columbia University faculty as organist and choirmaster at
St Paul's Chapel, and a professor at the School of Sacred Music at Union
Theological Seminary. He then studied for the Episcopal priesthood and spent 25
years as Professor of Speech and Music at Virginia Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia.
Upon retiring he spent two years in Israel at the ecumenical institute Tantur,
with representatives of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths.
His lifelong project was to search out and assemble writings
on the subject of "Music and the Soul," which he called his "pythagoras
Project." This brought him into contact with many great thinkers such as
the Swiss theologian-musician Karl Barth, and Eric Werner, Professor at Hebrew
Union College in New York, whose masterful study of the origins of Christian
liturgy and music in the synagogue, "The Sacred Bridge," profoundly
Scholars have long known about the influence of the
synagogue on the early Church. I find it of particular interest that the prayer
Jesus taught to his disciples, the "Lord's Prayer," has much in
common with the "Kaddish" prayer. This is reflected in the final movement
of Yizkor Requiem when the two prayers are sung simultaneously. In
summary, Yizkor Requiem is intended to illustrate musically the common
themes of the two rituals, to stand, as it were, on the Sacred Bridge between
them, and to show that in many ways they express the same hopes and fears and
The work is scored for mixed voices (often singing in
unison or in two parts); three soloists. Cantor(tenor), soprano and alto; and
chamber orchestra: three violin, three viola, three cello parts and bass viol,
two flutes, oboe, clarinet and bassoon, horn and two trumpets, timpani and
percussion, The cantor dominates the work, singing in Hebrew or Aramaic, and in
a style which allows for occasional ornamentation and improvisation.
A word needs to be said about the texts that have not been
used, namely the places in the Requiem Mass that deal with the Day of Judgment
and the agonies awaiting the damned - the entire "Dies Irae" and
parts of the "Domine Jesu Christe" or "Offertorium." There
has been no attempt to demonstrate the similarities in the music of the
synagogue and the early church, but there are certain recurring musical symbols
The Octave: I call it the "Yizkor
Motif," invoking the interrelationship between God (the higher note) and
humankind (the lower note), Although God is the
Highest, we do partake in the divinity at a lower level of
awareness. The opening movement begins with a trumpet fanfare in octaves; many
of the movements are preceded by instrumental playing of the separate notes of
the octave; the soprano and alto soloists often sing in octaves; and toward the
end of the work all the forces are in octaves (Justorum Animae, the Lord's
The Fifth: Symbolizing Perfection and
Glory, the fifth appears at the very opening with the Cantor singing the shofar-like
phrase "Yitgadal" (Magnified), And in the great climax of the
Sanctification, the brass instruments are heard above the entire chorus and orchestra
playing the great shofar-motif of the fifth.
The Third: Symbolizing Love The soprano and
alto soloists sing mostly in thirds, especially when invoking the name of
The basic structure of Yizkor Requiem rests on
three pillars' the "Reader's Kaddish" at the beginning, the "Sanctification"
or Kedusha in the middle, and the "Mourner's Kaddish/Lord's Prayer"
at the end. The words Kaddish and Kedusha are both derived from the Hebrew root
KDSH, Holy or Sanctified. Note that the Lord’s Prayer is translated “Our father
in heaven, sanctified be your Name.”
The incidental structure of the work is triggered by
linguistic parallels between the two traditions. Among the words which
influenced me the most are the following:
HEBREW / ARAMAIC
All that lives
I. Reader's Kaddish
Yizkor Requiem opens with a brass fanfare in the most
joyful key of C major. Instead of the traditional hushed prayer for the rest of
the departed soul we hear the stentorian tones of the Cantor singing praises to
the Almighty who created both life and death. Although the Kaddish prayer is
associated with mourning, it is actually a doxology, a prayer of
thanksgiving and praise.
The movement ends on an A major chord which slowly dies
away to reveal a lone bass viol playing a mournful melody in the key of A
minor, the beginning of the next movement.
II. Requiem Aeternam
A lengthy fugal passage of muted strings on the melody
introduced by the bass viol leads into the choral entrance on the words
"Requiem aeternam dona eis
Domine"; this reaches a climax on the word
"Dona!" then dies down for the words "et lux perpetua luceat eis."
The chorus sings the word "Light!" on an octave, which gradually
fills in to contain all twelve notes of the sonic spectrum. The Cantor enters
on the Hebrew word for light, "Or," accompanied by the other
soloists. Then begins a joyful hymn, "Te decet hymnus," to a steady
tambourine (timbrel) on a beguine-Iike dance rhythm which builds to another
climax. The music then dies away, initially arriving back at C major on the
words "Lord have mercy and remember us," but after a pause, this long
movement comes to rest on a C minor chord.
III. Psalm 23
This text is used universally for funerals within all of
the faiths of the Iudaeo-Christian spiritual heritage. In this setting we hear
a shepherd's pipe over a drone, the chorus singing a simple melody in octaves.
The relevant words, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow
of Death," are colored with muted brass and strings playing col legno,
striking the strings with the back of the bow, to achieve the effect of
rattling bones This is the only "scary" passage in the entire work
and lasts only a fraction of a minute; we do not fear death or evil, for the
Lord is with us and will comfort us in times of sadness and need.
It is in this movement, which combines the Hebrew prayer,
Avot (Our Fathers), with the Offertorium (Domine Jesu Christe), that the
interweaving of texts and musical styles is most apparent. All of the singers come
together at the end, for the only time in the entire work, on the same words,
"Remember, remember, and inscribe us in the Book of Life." The Cantor
begins the movement a cappella and ends it with the words "Blessed
art Thou, O Lord, Shield of Abraham."
The chorus sings this motet a cappella, with the women
soloists joining at the end. The parallel textual references to Abraham are
particularly noteworthy here.
"May they go from death to life, as You once
promised to Abraham and his seed forever," which evokes the words of the Avot
prayer, "Thou bringest redemption to their (the fathers')
The most obvious of the textual parallels is the Sanctus.
The words (from Isaiah, chapter 6) are the central part of the Jewish
Sanctification. What is not so obvious is the reason why the words "Holy,
Holy, Holy" are repeated three times Hebrew has no suffix to express a
superlative, as in "most holy"; one way to express emphasis is
through repetition So the Latin is "Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus"
instead of "Sanctissimus." Actually the entire verse is repeated
three times, as is the practice in the synagogue with certain significant melodies,
such as the "Kol Nidrei." The music reaches the biggest climax in the
entire work on the third repetition, in C major, with the brass playing the shofar
motif over the entire sound of the ensemble. The momentum slackens but builds
again from almost a complete stop, like a train which picks up momentum toward
great speed, ending, once more on C major, with a mighty shout on the words
VII. El Malei Rachamim
This is the most poignant of the Jewish prayers for the
dead. The entire mood is one of deep mourning, beginning with horn and divided
strings playing in organ-like style. The Cantor dominates the mood of the
piece. The marvelous text, reminiscent of the prayer "In Paradisum,"
"May they rest in the Garden of Eden," is given special emphasis. The
movement ends on a low a minor chord.
VIII. Lux Aeterna
Flute, soprano and high winds introduce the high feeling
of light, the flute melody being the "Requiem aeternam" theme played
now in a major mode. This leads directly into:
IX. Justorum Animae
This great text from the Wisdom of Solomon is performed
with the simplest of means. The soprano soloist sings an unaccompanied hymn wllich
is repeated, phrase by phrase, by chorus and orchestra in octaves. These words
from the Old Testament Apocrypha are the most poignant of all the verses used
Requiem, for they encapsulate perfectly the
essence of both traditions.
X. Mourner's Kaddish and Lord's Prayer
The orchestra plays the theme of "Justorum Animae"
in Brahmsian style, The Cantor now sings the Kaddish in traditional cantorial
fashion; the chorus intones the "Lord's Prayer" on a simple C octave.
This mixture, which at first seems a bit out of sync, gradually comes together
and reaches the final climax on the words, "For Yours is the Kingdom and
the Power and the Glory for ever, Amen." At this point the instruments cut
out and the atmosphere becomes one reminiscent of the synagogue. the chorus
backs up the Cantor, singing only the word "Amen" over and over,
while the Cantor completes the "Mourner's Kaddish" with the words
"Grant peace for us and all Israel." It is here that the Cantor is
given a chance to improvise and ornament as much as he wishes. The Reader then recites
the moving words from the Union Prayer Book for Jewish Worship which pray for
the rest of the departed souls. The last sound that is heard is the sound of a
distant flute playing the melody of "Justorum Animae". it is the song
of the departed soul, now free of all encumbrances, which fades away into
@ 2000 Thomas Beveridge
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BEVERIDGE: Yizkor Requiem