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James Adler
1950 -
United States of America, IL
Picture
J. Adler
James Adler (19/11/1950), an American composer, conductor and performer (born in Chicago, Illinois).
Memento mori: an AIDS requiem
Period:Modernism
Composed in:1996
Musical form:free
Text/libretto:Latin mass, Hebrew prayers, contemporary poetry and prose
Duration:75'
In memory of:victims of AIDS
Label(s):Albany Music Dist. 463
Memento mori: An AIDS Requiem for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Tenor, Bass, Men's Chorus (TTBB) and full or chamber orchestra. This work in nine movements features traditional Latin, Hebrew, and English texts as well as contemporary poetry by Quentin Crisp, Philip Justin Smith, Denise Stokes, and Bill Weaver. Recorded by AmorArtis Chorale and Orchestra, Johannes Somary conductor, featuring Victoria Livengood, Jane Dutton, Maire O'Brien, Neil Farrell, and Steve Huffines (Albany Records, Troy 463). Duration: 75 minutes.
It contains:
1. Requiem aeternam
2. Dies irae
3. Yizkor (Remembrance)
4. The Wounded
5. Lacrymosa
6. Sanctus · Holy · Kadosh
7. Pie Jesu
8. Lux aeterna
9. Survival
Different, powerful, beautiful, unusual, painful, difficult, eclectic… these are just a few of the ways my colleagues in the chorus have described Memento mori: an AIDS requiem. Beginning with passages from the requiem mass (the Roman Catholic “Mass for the Dead”) and adding Hebrew prayers as well as contemporary poetry and prose, James Adler’s requiem is as diverse, complex and personal as the people to whom he dedicates it, the “courageous men and women who are living with and who have succumbed to” AIDS.
As would a requiem mass, the work opens with the 'Requiem aeternam', an introductory hymn that sets the tone for the occasion by asking God to grant eternal rest to the souls of the departed, to let “perpetual light shine on them.” Within this 'introit' is interpolated the first verse of the 'Kyrie Eleison' imploring “Lord, have mercy.” The focus here is not on death itself but rather on what will become of the souls in the afterlife.
Adler then departs from this traditional liturgical foundation by incorporating a poem by Quentin Crisp, Britain’s notorious and self-professed “raging queen.” Beginning with the simple announcement, “Now I am dead,” what may first seem a solemn acceptance of death turns to disquiet as the voice of the dead subject muses, “And here I walk and wonder why I died.” The focus thus shifts from an acceptance of death and anticipation of the afterlife to an immediate need to know “why?” What explanation can there be for such suffering and death?
As if to answer this consuming question, the score returns to the first part of the well-known Dies irae and its horrific images of a wrathful God who swiftly punishes sin with death: “Nothing will remain unpunished.” This is not the voice of this requiem’s God, however, but that of a society ever ready to justify the inexplicable as the “will of God,” a society that would cruelly dismiss a virus such as AIDS as an act of divine retribution.
In place of this pervasive misconception, Adler offers a more universal and humane vision of God by including two Hebrew prayers, the 'Yizkor' and 'El Malei Rachamim'. Originating during the 11th century as a tribute to the countless Jews massacred by the Crusaders and still said as a memorial to all the faithful departed, the 'Yizkor' (“Remembrance”) might be thought of as the prayer of a community honoring those who have suffered and died senselessly and needlessly. Such suffering and death, whether due to historical prejudice or current disease, are not preordained punishments but rather tragic sacrifices, sacrifices that will enable the souls of the departed to join the "Divine Presence” as so beautifully celebrated in the 'El Malei Rachamim' (“God of Mercies”).
Once again, the focus shifts, this time from concern for the departed to that of the survivor. Adler returns to Quentin Crisp whose 'The Wounded' (or “Ingemisco” in Latin) so succinctly captures the sorrow, helplessness and dismay faced by the living: “What shall we say… What can we do… Where can we hide?” This despair continues in the Latin 'Lacrymosa' (“Weeping”) but is soon countered by a passage of strikingly poignant though little-known prose by an American writer. Taken from an unfinished play by Philip Justin Smith entitled 'Chosen Family', this excerpt chronicles the final moments in the life of “David” as experienced by the one person who has cared for him throughout his illness — his lover, partner and friend.
What might be perceived as tragic loss transforms into heavenly celebration: David departs this world and is immediately embraced by a chorus of angels who, as tradition holds, joyously herald his arrival by singing the 'Holy! Holy! Holy!' in English, Latin ("Sanctus") and Hebrew ("Kadosh"), extending a loving, all-inclusive welcome which concludes with 'Chorus angelorum' (“Choirs of angels sing you to your rest”).
The angels’ assurances of eternal rest resound as “requiem” is reintroduced from two other sections from the requiem mass: from the 'Pie Jesu' (“Sweet Jesus”); the last two lines of the Dies irae, emphasizing Christ’s sweetness and mercy; and from the 'Agnus Dei' (“Lamb of God”) with its metaphor of Christ as the sacrificial lamb.
In the 'Lux aeterna' (“Eternal Light”), the theme of heavenly light is brought down to earth in an excerpt from Denis Stokes’ 'Park Flickers'. Written as a recollection of the 1992 AIDS Candlelight Vigil and March in Washington, D.C., this passage profiles one person’s discovery of how she will respond to the AIDS epidemic: she will carry her flickering light from the march back into the darkness of an unknowing and uncaring world and “hope that my flicker could help them to see, to know, to feel.”
The final movement of Memento mori begins with 'Survival' by Atlanta’s own Bill Weaver. Taken from his Plague Songs, this poem is an acknowledgment of the brutal impact made by AIDS on his life and those he loves; more importantly, though, Survival is the author’s covenant to embrace and live life: “We will affirm life every day that we have left.” The movement ends with 'Chorus angelorum'... 'Requiem aeternam' which, in the Roman burial service, is said as the coffin is lowered into the ground.
They are gone from us. They are with the angels now. Requiem aeternam. Amen.
Author:David A. McTier, Ph.D.
Affecting, even harrowing, this is one of the most successful large-scale musical works to consider those who have died of AIDS. It is in the form of a 75-minute non-liturgical requiem for chorus, soloists, and orchestra with words in English that make the requiem personal. Although Jewish, Adler used the Latin Christian text because of its universality and because he wanted to put a personal stamp on the well-known format.
The style is tonal and traditionally melodious, with modern harmonies. It is deliberately widely accessible for audience and performers alike. Its intended target is the gay choral movement and it exists in versions for full orchestra or for an ensemble of eight strings, flutist, oboist taking English horn, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, horn, harp, a single percussionist, piano, and organ. The smaller-scale version still achieves a rich, full, and Romantic sound. It uses the following sections of the Roman liturgy: Requiem aeternam; Dies irae; Lacrymosa; Sanctus; Pie Jesu; Lux aeternam.
Adler replaces the Latin "Recordare" movement with a Jewish equivalent, "Yizkor" (Remembrance). The "Requiem aeternam" establishes a rather formal religious mood; its text, of course, prays God to grant eternal rest and perpetual light to the dead. The music takes a personal turn in Now I am dead," a poem by Quentin Crisp (a friend of the composer) that recollects the physical joys of life and wonders "why I died." The sequence of "Dies irae", "Mors stupebit", and "Judex ergo" is in the traditional vein of terrified, crashing music. Now the texture abruptly shifts: the Hebrew text of "Yizkor" uses a melody set in the ahava-raba prayer mode, and has accompaniment of only flute, piano, and solo double bass. It was here Adler said "I wanted something personal from my own heritage."
The setting is for solo baritone, with chorus quietly singing the English translation of the text. Quentin Crisp's poem The Wounded takes the place of the "Ingemisco" of a requiem. The poem is about survivor's guilt, both for those who have died and for those who are still suffering from the illness. It naturally leads to the Latin "Lacrymosa", picturing the "day of weeping," and then to a spoken passage. It is from an unfinished play called Chosen family by Philip Justin Smith and is a gut-wrenching scene from the very last days of an AIDS victim told by his partner and caregiver. A strong change of mood celebrates the life of the victim in "Sanctus Holy Kadosh", joyfully blending Latin, English, and Hebrew. After the establishment of this mood of peace, "Pie Jesu and "Lux aeterna (which again pray for rest and light for the departed), leads to another spoken passage, this one from The Park Flickers by Denise Stokes, a personal reflection of the great AIDS Candlelight Vigil and March in Washington, D.C., in 1992. The poem Survival is sung to re-assert determination to surmount the horrible virus and the requiem then ends with the image of "choirs of angels" consoling the dead.
Source:All Music Guide