Requiem by John Rutter
John Rutter was born in London in 1945, and was educated at Clare College, Cambridge. He began composing seriously in 1969, and has composed a large number of works, mostly choral, but including two children’s operas, orchestral works, works based on the heritage of the Beatles, and many works for chorus accompanied by brass or strings. He became Director of Music at Clare in 1975, and served until 1979; his musical heritage was enriched by contact with other parts of Cambridge University, especially Kings College, whose campus with its magnificent chapel adjoins Clare along the river Cam. Sir David Willcocks, director of the Kings College Choir, was one of Rutter’s teachers, and with Willcocks, Rutter has edited or published a number of choral collections. Rutter founded the Cambridge Singers in 1981, eventually helped them establish their own record label, and led them to international prominence; he has since resigned that directorship to concentrate on composition and conducting.
Of his Requiem, composed in 1985, Rutter says that it was composed because of a personal bereavement– which he does not further elaborate– and he compares it to the Requiems of Fauré and Duruflé (both previous works undertaken by the Naperville Chorus) and also to Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, which it resembles chiefly in its use of interwoven English texts with movements from the traditional Latin requiem mass; the texts used here include Psalms 23 and 130, and fragments of the Anglican burial service from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. While he characterizes it as a concert piece rather than a liturgical one, he says he hopes “it feels at home in church”. He intentionally employed sections of Gregorian chant, especially in the Agnus Dei, and briefly in the Lux Aeterna. He compares the overall structure to an arch, with the general prayers of the first movement, Requiem Aeternam, and the last, Lux Aeterna, both traditional texts, as the supports; the second and sixth movements (Out of the Deep and The Lord is My Shepherd, respectively) at the beginning of the arch; the personal prayers to Christ of the third and fifth movements (Pie Jesu and Agnus Dei) ascending into the arch; and the fourth movement, Sanctus, as the keystone, both “celebratory and affirmative”, in the composer’s words.
The Chorus has not previously undertaken this work, although some members have sung it in other venues, and other Rutter works have appeared on concerts of the Naperville Chamber Singers, an ensemble from the Chorus. As a living composer, and one whose works are accessible to singers and audiences alike, John Rutter has become much admired both here and in Europe. He states that his work “ranges in difficulty from very simple to fairly challenging, though it was my in writing them that none would be beyond the reach of a capable church choir”. His travels have included conducting performances in the west suburban Chicago area within the past few years.
J. R. Fancher