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Three Questions Before the First Night, by Carson Cooman

Nancy Galbraith -- Requiem

American composer Nancy Galbraith (born 1951) is a professor of music at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She has been noted for her appealing and accessible music in nearly all genres and has earned particular acclaim for her works for wind ensembles. In recent years, Galbraith has composed a number of works for concert choir and large ensemble -- including her Missa Mysteriorum, God of Justice, and Magnificat.

Nancy Galbraith's Requiem for chorus and orchestra premières on 10 April 2005 with the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh under the direction of Robert Page in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.

OneCarson Cooman: This is the second large work you've composed for the Mendelssohn Chorus of Pittsburgh and Robert Page. The first was a full-length concert mass with wind ensemble (Missa Mysteriorum). This new work marks the end of Robert Page's tenure with the Mendelssohn Chorus. How does it feel to have written another major work for this chorus, and to be commemorating something so significant with it?

Nancy Galbraith: I am deeply honored to be a part of this celebration, and it is a humbling experience to have a work selected to honor the career of such a distinguished conductor as Robert Page. The Mendelssohn Choir was very supportive during their wonderful performance of Missa Mysteriorum, and I am looking forward to working with them once again.

The Missa Mysteriorum was the first of my works for concert choir. I was composing it just as my own project for Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) Lutheran Seminary. Then, I played through some of it for Robert Page in its in-progress state, just to get his reaction and opinions. He liked it very much and asked if he could commission it for the Mendelssohn Choir. Thus, it turned into a large concert work for them to perform.

TwoCC: Your style has been noted for its rhythmic energy and post-minimalist influences. How does this effect your approach in writing for choral groups?

NG: In Missa Mysteriorum, the post-minimalist textures were largely confined to the instrumental writing. Being raised in a Lutheran tradition, my vocal writing is largely chorale style homophony contrasting with traditional contrapuntal textures. In more recent works, I have been applying more rhythmic and minimalist textures to the vocal lines as well.

Concert choir with large ensemble (wind ensemble or orchestra) is a genre that works very well with my style since I like to create large masses of sound.

ThreeCC: Settings of the Requiem mass throughout history have used a wide variety of texts. Although the Requiem mass text forms the basis of most pieces, different composers have used different excerpts and interpolations. The choice of the specific texts has effectly greatly the tone of different Requiem settings -- creating contrasting results like the forceful vigor of Mozart's setting as compared to the warm, serene spirit of Fauré's.

What text have you used, and why did you make the choices you did based on the musical intents of the piece?

NG: One of the characteristics of my musical style is the extreme contrast between serenity and driving rhythm. I chose the Requiem text which would allow for the expression of these extreme dramatic contrasts. I would, for instance, describe the serene setting of the Libera Me in my Requiem with the type of serenity found in Fauré. I had considered inserting poetic texts from ee cummings, but ultimately settled for the Ordinary of the Mass (without Credo or Gloria) with the traditional addition of the Requiem Aeterna, Dies Irae, Domine Jesu Christe, Lux Aeterna and Libera Me movements.

My own Lutheran church is quite traditional and liturgically conservative, so I feel very comfortable working with these traditional religious texts. Along with the Requiem, both my Missa Mysteriorum and Magnificat also use exactly the traditional texts. My work God of Justice was a bit different in that the commissioning organization (Sisters of Divine Providence) asked me to create something that expressed a Christian message, but in universal terms. Thus, the text for that work draws from the Beatitudes of the Bible along with excerpts from the Jewish Gates of Prayer and also the Catholic Council of Bishop's writings on economic justice.

The text of my Requiem is also the same full set of texts used by Verdi in his setting. Robert Page is widely regarded as one of the finest interpreters of Verdi's Requiem. Thus, this is an aspect of tribute to him in the work's structure.

Copyright © 15 March 2005 Carson P Cooman, Rochester, NY, USA







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