Marchioness Requiem (also known as: Requiem for The Young)
for symphony orchestra, large chorus and soprano/alto/tenor/bass soloists
(1990-1993)

also written as an abbreviated chamber version:
Heaven's Embroidered Cloth

for chamber ensemble and soprano/alto/tenor/bass soloists

- Instrumentation: -

'Marchioness Requiem'
- symphony orchestra
- large chorus
- soprano/alto/tenor/bass soloists

'Heaven's Embroidered Cloth'
- 2 violins
- viola
- cello
- double bass
- flute
- clarinet
- harp
- soprano/alto/tenor/bass soloists

- Duration: -

'Marchioness Requiem'
- approximately 80 minutes

'Heaven's Embroidered Cloth'
- approximately 30 minutes

- Recordings & Soundclips: -

A high-quality 1993 concert recording of 'Heaven's Embroidered Cloth' (made at the Purcell Room, Southbank, London by The Keith Burstein Ensemble) is available (enquire via Daniel X Music).

- Score: -

Available from composer - please enquire.

- Origins/Commission/Dedications: -

Originally commissioned by Maria Vasconcellos in memory of her sons, Antonio and Domingos, who died in the Marchioness boat disaster on the Thames.

- Premieres/Performances: -

The full version of ‘Marchioness Requiem’ remains unperformed.
'Heaven's Embroidered Cloth' was premiered by The Grosvenor Group at St Brides, Fleet Street, London, 1991 and has been performed many times since.

- Composer’s comments: -

When I began work on music to commemorate the 51 people who lost their lives in the Marchioness River Boat Disaster of 1989, the metaphor of the river flowing into the ocean as an image of mortal lives flowing into the sea of eternity became the basis of the work. Hence the recurring words from Spencer - "Flow on sweet Thames, ‘til I end my song." The pilgrimage in Chaucer (which started at the Tabard Inn near the Thames in Southwark) also seemed apt, evoking the pilgrimage of the soul from life into greater life. Yeats’ line "Tread softly, for you tread on my dreams", from his poem ‘Heaven’s Embroidered Cloth’, spoke of the poignancy of young lives curtailed.

Interlinked with the lines by these well-known poets were words written by the victims - in one case a premonitory poem addressed to the young female writer’s mother, and in another poems written by two of the bereaved relatives, William Gorman and Maria Vasconcellos (these two being the co-commissioners of the work). In collaboration with William Gorman, I then mixed the poetry with the Latin Mass for the dead.

The full score for ‘Marchioness Requiem’ was written for symphony orchestra, choir and four soloists and still awaits performance. There is also a chamber version of the work called ‘Heaven’s Embroidered Cloth’, which contains music taken from the main score and has been performed many times.

I cannot explain exactly why, from time to time, certain isolated events compel me to such response while, for the most part, the furious tumult of life surges on without making such demand. The river disaster happened just two years or so after my having discovered my new tonal voice in the late eighties. The compulsion to create music that mediates or processes a shocking event has overtaken me repeatedly ever since - with ‘A Live Flame’ in 1995 (upon the sudden death of John Smith, the leader of the Labour party); in the aftermath of 9/11 with the opera ‘Manifest Destiny’; and at the millennium, with hindsight, with ‘The Year’s Midnight’, a meditation on the Holocaust.

The need to make such works and the means to do so are perhaps inseparable dimensions of the same process. The means is the universalism of tonality - whose re-apprehension instantly suggests a need to allow engagement with wider events - and the compulsion to engage perhaps seeks the extraction of light from darkness (evidently the case in each example).

This suggests to me a particular psychological process. The events which I chose to sublimate have so oppressed me (as opposed to the normal sequence of horror and catastrophe which punctuates life) that on these especial eventualities of mishap, my mind - to avoid dangerous disarray - sets about organizing a method by which to redress the balance using the transcendence of music to achieve the miraculous conjuring of light.

It may be that this light-evincing ambition drives all my music, whether it is related to external events or not. If so, then perhaps the re-apprehension of tonality becomes a means rather than an end. That is to say, the re-configuration of tonalism in a new twenty-first century dimension is not an end in itself, but is the only way to express an exceptional transcendence of light; tonalism and music being synonymous, and what is most transcendent in music being tonality.

The 'Marchioness Requiem' was the prototype for a number of my works that harness this mechanism.

 

- Keith Burstein, 15th November 2009


 

 

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