Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Requiem for a Nation

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Requiem for a Nation

Article excerpt

An American Requiem, by Richard Danielpour. Recorded by the Pacific Symphony Orchestra. Reference Recordings.

When Richard Danielpour composed An American Requiem in September 2000, he had no idea it would be presented to a nation experiencing a battlefront on its own soil. Yet a year later he was on the phone to his New York publishers, discussing the details of the recording's inscription, when his editor stopped to witness the jet hurtle into the second World Trade Center tower. In that tragic moment, Danielpour revised his inscription to read, "To all the victims of war."

Danielpour is a prolific and vibrant composer whose sweeping and reflective style has given a distinct voice to contemporary American classical music. His motivation in writing

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An American Requiem grew out of a desire to understand his nation's warring past. As a child of the '60s and early '70s, war was very much part of his life, but the "experiences and their implications were taken in from a distance," he writes in the CD's liner notes. Too young to fight but old enough to understand the calls of the anti-war movement, he grew up believing that the United States picked its battles because of "economic and political agendas" and had little concern for the men and women enlisted to fight these wars.

In 1998, Danielpour began to interview veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam in preparation for this composition. Drawn into their experiences, he discovered that soldiers were not conflicted about the duty to serve and sacrifice. They were willing to fight and to die, if necessary, for the protection of others--those left behind or those fighting at their sides. Despite the rhetoric of politicians designed to persuade (or manipulate) public support, these fighting men and women embraced a notion of personal sacrifice that had little to do with the economic and political agendas of their nation's leaders. Danielpour's work conveys this integrity of spirit so evident in the first victims of war--its soldiers.

Ultimately, this work is about human suffering--of the soldier, the parent, the brother or sister, the comrade. The vehicle by which Danielpour chose to convey his message was the requiem, a Mass for the dead. Generally set with Latin texts, Danielpour layered this centuries-old choral setting with distinctly American voices--Emerson, Whitman, modern poets Michael Harper, Hilda Doolittle, and a nameless writer of spirituals. …

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