Hyperion Records

Messa di Requiem
Probably none of Pizzetti’s choral music reaches the heights of supreme beauty or displays such utter confidence in the genre as the Messa di Requiem. There are many parallels between this and Martin’s Mass. For a start both are a cappella works, both were composed in 1922, and both represent their respective composers’ only venture into liturgical music. If Martin was a deeply committed Christian, Pizzetti’s approach to the Christian faith seems rather more equivocal, yet there is every bit as much spiritual intensity in this work as in Martin’s devotional Mass.

Coming from a Catholic background, Pizzetti was entirely familiar with the plainchant of the Mass. However, the work’s opening movement, Requiem, starts with the kind of free-flowing quasi-plainchant line (here sung by the basses) which Martin uses at the start of his Mass. With the words ‘et lux perpetua luceat eis’ the music suddenly broadens out into a radiant five-part texture (there are two bass parts) strongly reminiscent of Renaissance madrigals. Signifying the move into the formal liturgy of the Mass, Pizzetti sets the words ‘Kyrie eleison’ as a fugue, the harmony becoming correspondingly more stark. By far and away the longest movement is the Dies irae which is founded on the traditional plainchant associated with these words. This plainchant is heard at the outset sung by basses and altos as a kind of inexorable funeral march to the accompaniment of a subdued wailing counter-melody sung by tenors and sopranos. This sparse two-part writing continues for fifty bars, a quarter of the movement’s length, before, with the words ‘Quid sum miser’, the texture thickens out into eight-part polyphony, reaching a passionate climax with the cry ‘Salva me’. A brief return of the two-part writing precedes a deeply moving conclusion in which the words ‘Pie Iesu’ suddenly shine through in gloriously radiant major harmony. For the Sanctus the texture thickens still further with the choir divided into three four-part groups, vividly calling to mind the multiple choirs used in sixteenth-century Venetian church music. The glorious ‘Hosanna in excelsis’ subsides into a gentle setting of the ‘Benedictus’ which again builds up into a dazzling final ‘Hosanna’, a truly breathtaking climax. The gentle Agnus Dei, in simple four-part harmony, provides a tranquil prayer-like interlude before the final Libera me marked to be sung ‘with profound fervour’. Pizzetti here returns to the five-part texture of the first movement and, while for the most part the movement is restless and rhythmically unsettled, there is a moment of sheer magic with the setting of words fundamental to the whole work: ‘Requiem aeternam dona eis’.

from notes by Marc Rochester © 1998

Track-specific metadata
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Details for GAW21017 track 10
Agnus Dei
Recording date
7 July 1997
Recording venue
Westminster Cathedral, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Arthur Johnson
Recording engineer
Julian Millard
Hyperion usage
  1. Martin: Mass; Pizzetti: Messa di Requiem (CDA67017)
    Disc 1 Track 10
    Release date: January 1998
  2. Martin: Mass; Pizzetti: Messa di Requiem (GAW21017)
    Disc 1 Track 10
    Release date: September 2003
    Deletion date: November 2013
    Superseded by CDA67017
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