English Requiem

An English Requiem for the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed.

My local Anglican parish church holds a Requiem mass each year to celebrate All Souls' Day, officially the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed. One year, our Choir sang a popular setting of the Latin Mass (though not a Requiem) for this service and it went so well we repeated it on subsequent years. This was lovely, but after five or more years of singing the same thing, we fancied a change.

At our annual meeting at the beginning of 2020, we were discussing how hard it was to find a suitable (and affordable!) replacement. One of my fellow choristers, knowing my interest in composition, nudged me and suggested I should have a go at writing one. I was a bit sceptical, and in any case I was starting work on a setting for Evensong, but the idea stayed with me. I finally started thinking seriously about it in April and began putting ideas together in June.

There are of course many superb settings of the Requiem texts, so in order to get a fresh take on them I quickly decided that I would take the unusual step of setting the texts in modern English instead of Latin. The good thing about this is that the congregation would understand all the words without having to have a translation in front of them. But they would also get to hear all that stuff about hell and torment unshielded by the language barrier.

In the texts I have chosen, I have tried to strike a balance between tradition and the expectations of a modern congregation gathering to mourn the loss of loved ones; and I have tried to be sparing in the amount of repetition of texts between movements.

I did not feel that the Dies Irae, as powerful as it would be, would fit well in our annual service. Pie Iesu is a combination of the end of the Dies Irae and the end of the Agnus Dei, so to avoid repetition I left it alone. I also decided against setting In Paradisum and Libera Me since strictly speaking they belong to the burial rites, and are therefore better suited to a service for an individual rather than All Souls.

I have tried to make the setting relatively simple to learn and sing, yet prayerful and dramatic.

Summary information


Version 1.2

Source code

This piece was written using Lilypond. The source code for it is available from my GitLab repository. To compile it yourself, you will also need my house style files.