KARL JENKINS’ Requiem for chorus and orchestra was written in 2004. It was premiered on 6 February 2005 at Southwark Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St. Saviour and St. Mary Overie, London, performed by a large choir, the West Kazakhstan Philharmonic Orchestra and percussion and winds, conducted by the composer.
The orchestra also includes Japanese instruments such as the bamboo shakuhachi flute, the darabuka and daiko percussion instruments, and frame drums. The soloists were Nicole Tibbels (soprano), Clive Bell (shakuhachi), Sam Landman (treble) and Catrin Finch (harp). That same year the Requiem was released on an album alongside another work of his, In These Stones Horizons Sing, written for the opening ceremony of the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. The soloists were Clive Bell (on shakuhachi), Marat Bisengaliev (as solo violinist) Catrin Finch (harp), and Nigel Hitchcock (soprano saxophone).
In addition to the liturgical movements, Jenkins includes numbers of Japanese pre-mortem haiku poems by Gozan, Isho, Hokusai, Kaga-no-Chiyo and Banzan.
The Requiem contains a total of 13 movements (in Japanese culture a divine number that is bestowed with special blessings).
The main traditional numbers are Introit, Spirit Dies Irae, Rex Tremendae, Confutatis, Lacrimosa, Lux Aeterna, as well as Pie Jesu (Hail to Jesus) and In paradisum (In paradise / you will be led by angels/), included like the requiems of Gabriel Fauré and Maurice Duruflé.
The poetic haiku parts are The Snow of Yesterday, From Deep in My Heart, Now as a Sprite, Having Seen the Moon, Farewell.
In the CD’s featured materials, Jenkins says of the work: A Requiem is a Mass for the souls of the dead. In general I have set the usual Latin movements but in keeping with my usual trait of drawing from other cultures, I have also set five Japanese haiku ‘death’ poems. Such poems are usually to do with nature, have a single idea, and consist of seventeen syllables divided 5-7-5 over three lines. As one can see from the text, the Japanese view nature’s water cycle [precipitation] as being synonymous with life.
I have combined the Western and Eastern texts in two of the haiku movements. Having Seen The Moon and Farewell, which incorporate the Benedictus and the Agnus Dei respectively. Both are intoned by male voices in a monastic style as a counterpoint to the Japanese text sung by females.
The instrumentation of these haiku settings includes the ancient Japanese wind instrument the shakuhachi. Elsewhere, as usual, I have used some ethnic drums [e.g. Arabic darabuca, Japanese daiko, frame drums] and even a hip-hop rhythm in the Dies Irae!
The work is dedicated to my late father, a musician and an inspiration!
The press described the work as: …the ultimate in postmodern requiems… (“Music Week”). Also, “Jenkins’s gift for writing solid melodies according to the mood of the text is profound.”(“Choral Review”).
The Requiem, like his other choral and choral-orchestral works, has a closeness to new-age mood music while not losing its spiritual message. It is also performed in a version with European instruments, the traditional instruments, as noted in the score, being replaced by flute, timpani and other percussion.