Einojuhani Rautavaara: A Requiem in Our Time


Composed in 1953 when he was still a student at the Sibelius Academy, A Requiem of Our Time was the first of three works for brass ensemble that Rautavaara composed. The piece brought an international spotlight onto Rautavaara after he won the Thor Johnson Brass Composition Competition in 1954 with A Requiem of Our Time. The piece is dedicated to Rautavaara’s mother, who died when he was a teenager. 


The Music

Set into four movements, each representative of a sequence in a requiem mass. A Requiem in Our Time is scored for 13 brass instruments. 


Movement I – Hymnus 

Opening with a trombone and trumpet fanfare, the opening burst of sound is bright and powerful. Rautavaara’s use of dissonance between the instruments creates crunching chords that colour the harmony. The constant changing of time signature throughout creates uneasiness within the music that gives it the momentum that is felt within the music. A more lyrical central section sees the horn take up the melody as the lower brass offer a driving accompaniment. The percussion are used for both their driving rhythms and decorative abilities. A reprise of the opening fanfare leads the opening movement to its epic conclusion.


Movement II – Credo et dubito

Translated into ‘Belief and Doubt’, the fiery second movement opens with muted trumpets that play a fast semiquaver passage. The lower brass and horn interrupt this passage by playing a solemn chorale. The two sequences are passed between the upper and lower sections of the ensemble, which reiterates the polar-opposite themes. As the climax is reached, the ensemble unite for the final passages of the movement.


Movement III – Dies Irae

The Dies Irae theme is first heard by the lower brass who are accompanied by whirling trumpets. Dramatic effects are offered by the percussion who largely follow the off-beats of the music. The very quiet sections are outweighed by the bold loud sections. Rautavaara’s bombastic style comes out during the central section as this 13-piece ensemble sounds like a fully-fledged brass band. A huge warm and supportive lower brass supports the cleanly-articulated upper brass who, with their piercing muted sequences, sit on top of the texture. After some rip-roaring horn solos, the Dies Irae movement comes to a dramatic close.


Movement IV – Lacrymosa

Marked ‘Larghetto Tranquillo’, the only slow movement of the whole piece is heard at the end of this tumultuous piece. The gentle muted trumpets support the lower brass soloists who create a peaceful atmosphere. Most of the ensemble is given solo time in this movement, with a solo trumpet taking the lead in the central section. The constant fluctuation between the accompaniment parts creates a rocking feeling within the music, which is accentuated by Rautavaara’s choices in time signatures. As the accompaniment takes over, for an interlude of muted upper brass, A Requiem in Our Time comes to its peaceful close. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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