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ClassicsOnline Home » RUTTI, C.: Requiem (O. Robinson, E. Price, J. Watts, Bach Choir, Southern Sinfonia, D. Hill)
Carl Rütti’s choral music is ‘sensuous and exuberant by turns, combining dazzling rhythms and soaring melodies with distinctively lush harmonies’ (Choir & Organ magazine). Of his Requiem, immense in scale yet often intimate in tone, the composer writes that ‘no words are strong enough to express the feelings of the bereaved, nor sufficient to explain what will await us after death. Music may be the most appropriate language’. Scored for soprano, baritone, double choir, strings, harp and organ, Rütti’s Requiem ultimately affirms life’s precious fragility.
By Robert R. Reilly
Carl Rütti (b. 1949)
Carl Rütti was born in 1949 and grew up in the Swiss town of Zug. After studying piano and organ at the Zürich Conservatoire, he travelled to England, where his teachers were Kendall Taylor and Richard Latham. Whilst in London he experienced English choral singing for the first time, and was impressed by its
quality and high standard. He was inspired to write several pieces for a cappella choir, some of which were recorded by the choir of Brompton Oratory,
London and the BBC Singers, and broadcast by the BBC. Since then he has composed a steady output of largely religious choral works including Sermon on the
Mount, Songs of Love, Verena die Quelle, the 40-part motet Veni Creator Spiritus, O magnum mysterium, a Magnificat, a Stabat Mater, St Peter and St Paul and Alpha and Omega (first performed at the BBC Proms in 1999), and has worked together with many English
and American choirs. His compositions also include the carol I wonder as I wander, which has been performed several times as part of the annual Festival
of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge.
Rütti’s instrumental works include Pavane for violin and organ, the Montreux Wind Dances (for brass band), Metamorphosis (a concerto for euphonium and wind orchestra), Stundenbuch for piano solo, a concerto for three pianos and orchestra, and a concerto for alpenhorn and strings. As well as composing, Rütti teaches piano at the Zürich Conservatoire, gives concerts and recitals as a pianist and organist, and is the organist of the local church in Oberägeri, Zug.
A blend of the English choral tradition with other genres including jazz and the blues, in rich colourful textures, can be heard throughout Rütti’s music and his use of harmony crosses all boundaries. His compositions can best be described as French but with a strong English accent, and he often uses two keys
simultaneously. Relentless, driving rhythms co-exist with quietly shimmering soundscapes.
Carl Rütti was delighted and honoured when, in 2005, he was approached by The Bach Choir and asked to write a Requiem. Although he had already written
several pieces on the subject of death, he knew that he was undertaking one of the most daunting tasks facing any composer. “When it was suggested that I write a Requiem for The Bach Choir I hardly dared accept the challenge, but then I remembered the losses in my own life. There is only one thing a human being faces for sure: death. No words are strong enough to express the feelings of the bereaved, nor sufficient to explain what will await us after death. Music may be the most appropriate language—therefore it is a huge challenge for a composer.”
The original commission was for a twenty-minute piece, but by 2007, when the Requiem was completed, this had grown to around an hour. With the idea that
the work should be accessible to as many choirs as possible, The Bach Choir asked for the same orchestration as the Fauré Requiem—strings, harp and organ—as well as a version with organ accompaniment only. Rütti did not miss the huge forces with off-stage trumpeters and vast arrays of percussion used by some composers when expressing the complex text of the Requiem Mass; he was content that everything he wished to say could be communicated through more slender forces. A violinist from the age of five, a concert organist, and having composed for his sister, who is a harpist, Rütti was familiar with the demands of these instruments. Moreover he was keen to experiment with the percussive effects that could be generated from other instruments, particularly the
Writing for double choir with soprano and baritone soloists, Rütti chose to set seven movements of the Latin Requiem Mass. His aims were twofold: first, he
wanted to express the feelings of the bereaved—feelings of grief, despair, fury, but also comfort; and second, he tried to foresee the moment of passing
away. The Requiem begins and ends a cappella, sung by one solo voice to symbolize, as Rütti explains, “that we enter and leave life weak and alone”. Rütti’s intention in the Introitus is that the soprano soloist and—ad libitum—first choir begin some distance away from the second choir, the two elements moving closer together as they sing.
In the Kyrie the initial prayer for pity is transformed into a cry for pity. Conflicting rhythms are heard simultaneously, the orchestra driving the music
along in a steady two beats to the bar whilst the voices sing in three. The double chorus is used antiphonally, coming together at the climaxes.
The Offertorium expresses the moment of death and Rütti draws on music from his Pavane (1997), in which the theme was the soul meeting God after death. The music here is passionate, with driving rhythms and hard-hitting harmony, creating a sense of fear. This is the closest he gets to a Dies irae, a setting which he wanted to avoid as it did not concur with his idea of God. The moment of facing God is introduced by the very distant baritone solo, reminding us of the promises God gave to Abraham. This is the first of three occurrences of this central melody. In the final section of the Offertorium the organ, which has an individual virtuoso part throughout the work, is used to symbolize God appearing to the soul after death.
At the centre of the seven movements, the Sanctus again makes specific use of the organ, this time to aid the strings in describing the ladder between heaven and earth on which angels rise and fall as Jacob saw it in his dream (Genesis 28,12); this is a wonderful parable for the close interrelation between heaven and earth, life and eternity. The Benedictus re-uses the baritone solo melody from the Offertorium, this time accompanied and a little less distant.
The Agnus Dei acts as a striking contrast to the other movements. Scored for soloists, reduced strings and harp only, Rütti expresses the lamb as the most defenceless animal symbolizing Christ. This movement is written in memory of two of Rütti’s close friends, singers from Cambridge Voices, a choir with which he continues to work closely. Cambridge Voices gave the first performances of many of Rütti’s earlier works, notably Songs of Love and Verena die Quelle, and his idea was to introduce the style of music of these earlier compositions into the Agnus Dei.
The Communio begins by alternating gently flowing strings with long, luminous chords for the choir on Lux aeterna; within that sound the listener is given a taste of something beyond. Rütti was inspired by the river as an ancient symbol of the way from life to eternity, and this movement achieves a sense of calm, indicating that the drama is coming to an end. The painting Isle of the Dead, by the symbolist Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin (1827–1901), exerted a strong influence over Rütti, as it had previously inspired other composers, notably Rachmaninov and Reger.
The captivating melody, already heard in the Offertorium and Benedictus, permeates the final movement, In Paradisum, building to the biggest
climax of the work. Rütti’s intention was to depict the singers escorting the deceased as he is carried on his last journey to the cemetery, and he drew on his experience of the funeral of his father-in-law, at the end of which the coffin was carried out by the villagers.
As the music fades, the choir accompanies the soloists as if with its last breath. Gradually the voices become fewer—the heart is failing—and we hear the song of a blackbird, something of a lucky charm for Rütti, and here used as a symbol of life after death. The work ends as the soprano soloist walks into the distance—into heaven—and her sound soars into the atmosphere.
Carl Rütti’s Requiem (2007) was first performed by The Bach Choir under David Hill, with the Southern Sinfonia, Jane Watts (organ), Katharine Fuge (soprano) and Edward Price (baritone), in Winchester Cathedral on 16 February 2008.
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