2014-11-09 Notes from the Bench

Requiem by Vernon Williams

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate


The month of November begins with two significant liturgical celebrations: All Saints’ Sunday, traditionally observed on November 1, but transferred to the first Sunday in November, and the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed, also known as All Souls’ Day in the Roman Catholic Church, which is observed on November 2nd. It is during these liturgies that we remember and honor all those who have passed before us into eternal life.

While the celebration of All Saints’ honors all deceased Christians, the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed provides an additional opportunity for us to remember and pray for our loved ones. This weekend, the All Saints’ community will commemorate those members of our faith community who have died, during our annual Solemn Requiem for All Souls service. Our Senior Choir will sing a newly composed Requiem setting by Vernon Williams as part of this service, an Arizona premiere and among the first performances of this beautiful choral work.

Vernon Williams, the composer of the setting being sung by our Senior Choir this year, is an American organist and composer who serves as Director of Music at Trinity Episcopal Church in Moorestown, New Jersey. The Requiem was composed in honor of his father. It features warm harmonies and includes all the texts from the Requiem Mass, as well as settings of two Psalms.



A Requiem is both the Mass for the Dead, or the Missa pro Defunctis (Mass of the “finished”) and a multi-movement choral work that sets the sung texts from this liturgy. The term Requiem is taken from the text of the Introit chant, “requiem aeternam dona eis” (rest eternal grant unto them).

Composers throughout the ages have written settings of the prescribed texts of the Requiem in various styles. The use of Gregorian chant melodies is among the earliest surviving examples and many of these settings are still in use today within a liturgical context. The dramatic texts of the chants inspired composers to write larger scaled works that are on par with choral Mass settings, cantatas, and oratorios. They began writing polyphonic settings around the fifteenth century and larger choral settings that incorporated organ or orchestra were written after 1600. By the late eighteen and throughout the nineteenth century, many composers wrote Requiems that employed large musical forces that are more concert-type works. Famous Requiems include works composed by Mozart, Verdi, Fauré, and Duruflé. During the twentieth century, Requiems have been written that deal with the subjects of death and mourning rather than setting the traditional Requiem Mass texts, and are not necessarily religious or intended for use within a liturgical context.


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