I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me. Come, my beloved, Let us go out into the country, let us spend the night in the villages. Let us rise early and go to the vineyards; Let us see whether the vine has budded and its blossoms have opened, and whether the pomegranates have bloomed. There I will give you my love. The mandrakes have given forth fragrance; and over our doors are all choice fruits, both new and old, which I have saved up for you, my beloved.
—Song of Solomon
Requiem in d: Faces of AIDS
During the 1980s I saw a number of my classmates, professional colleagues and friends felled by the modern scourge called AIDS. Not until the early 1990s were any compostions created to honor and mourn those who had perished from this disease. The genesis of my own memorial, Requiem in d: Faces of AIDS, came in 1991. Oddly, the monologues came before the music; indeed, these poetically inspired texts influenced the selection of texts and the overall structure of the work until its completion.
The characters represent various facets of the HIV community: Damon is a composite of any number of gay men in the mid-1980s who endured circumstances equally tragic during the Reagan administration; Solomon, as a married straight man pines for the lost love of his life just as many husbands and wives pine in later years of this epidemic; Christine speaks for two classes of women: the affluent and beautiful who are nothing more than sexual objects to men, and the downtrodden, riddled with addiction and at the mercy of indifferent strangers for mere survival. The traditional Old Testament story of King David and his son Absalom recasts Michelangelo’s famous Pietá—the Virgin Mary holding her dead son—into a Pietó, the father holding his lifeless child, lamenting the words he wished he had spoken while the boy lived. Finally, Vicki is redolent of the myriad children brought into the world infected with HIV and the particular tragedy we survivors experience at their demise.
Musically speaking, the structure of the individual movements varies considerably, as do the styles. I purposely chose to write strictly for unaccompanied choir as a kind of test; these self-imposed limits also helped me manage this large project, which took more than three years to complete. The Introit is redolent of plainsong, alternating between a chant melody sung by the men and a type of musical treatment common in 15th-century France called fauxbourdon. In modern terms it generally denotes harmonic progressions based on parallel sixth chords, although I have taken great liberty with this definition. The two styles merge at the movement’s end and lead into the Kyrie, which is designated Passacaglia.
Because the Kyrie eleison is a repeated prayer, mantra-like, I chose to set the prayer for mercy to a form that inherently repeats. The Spanish term Passacaglia literally means “alley walking” and derives from 17th-century Spain. Strolling minstrels would walk the alleyways with their guitars and improvise variations to a repeated bass figure, known in later music as a “ground.” Hence, the melodic figure for the Kyrie is sung and resung by the voices, while the lower men’s parts sing a kind of drone/rhythmic pulse. The soprano solo in the Christe, set atop a similar drone, is indicated to be sung in the “style of a Gypsy;” that is, freely and with great musical abandon. I also introduce a kind of sprechstimme, speaking words in a loud whisper-like tone for percussive effect. The movement closes with an integration of figures from the soprano solo with the recapitulated Kyrie.
Following the Anglican tradition, the Psalm is set to a newly composed chant. I chose this compositional method to accentuate the natural rhythms of the Psalm. "Solomon’s Song" is a study in contrapuntal writing—whereby the voices imitate one another, varying the intervals somewhat to allow the piece to move and grow. The middle section, “I must arise now…” is more fugal in nature; having seven beats per measure allows the text’s own rhythmic dominance. There is a brief reprise of the opening section with a surprise ending, designed to leave this poignant text with an equally poignant musical conclusion.
The Sanctus and Benedictus are built harmonically on an augmented triad, which provides both the tonal foundation for the movements and the basis for the fugal “Pleni sunt cæli.” I set the Benedictus for a solo quartet and once again used the sprechstimme in the final “Hosanna.” I chose to combine the Agnus Dei, Pie Jesu and Into Paradise so that I could bring together all of the separate choral ensembles used previously in the work’s final movement: chorus, quartet and soloist. The alternation of the Agnus Dei and Pie Jesu seemed perfectly natural, and led easily into the Into Paradise, which given the nature of Vicki’s monologue, is set as a simple lullaby. Because I was fascinated with how both the word “Requiem” and “Jerusalem” end with the same sound, the work ends as it began, with the chant-like Requiem melody.