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"Requiescat in pace" - Musical epitaph for Tenor and String Quartet (2014)

J. Lee Graham

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Early in 2014, the father of a childhood friend of mine messaged me unexpectedly on Facebook, asking me to email him, as he had something very particular he wanted to discuss, and it wouldn't do to text it.  When he emailed me back, I was pleasantly surprised and honoured that he was commissioning me to compose a piece of music in honour of his late wife, who had died the previous summer.  This gentleman had long been a patron of the arts, and this was not the first time he had commissioned music from me.  But this project was different, in that he had something very particular and rather unusual in mind.  His instructions were for a setting of the only Latin words "Requiescat in pace" - "may [she] rest in peace," the ubiquitous words used as an epitaph on tombstones - for tenor voice accompanied by string quartet; he further stipulated that the setting should first express profoundest grief and loss, then emerge into music imbued with peace and hope.  Sobered by the commission but undaunted, on February 4, I began writing.  

I envisioned first a long, slow introduction in C minor for the strings alone - like a mournful recitative, weighed down oppressively with crushing grief - from which would emerge a poignant, comforting setting of the epitaph in E-flat, full of sweetness, tenderness, and peace.  Over the next five days, I barely slept or ate, seeming to exist only to fulfill this commission, until on Feburary 9, the work was complete - one day before the first anniversary of my own mother's death.  In this piece, I memorialize not only my patron's wife, but also my mother, and all the beloved departed who have moved on to the next reality.

Although it was not recorded, this work was premiered at a private memorial during the summer of 2014.  My patron had paid my stipend well in advance of that, but shortly thereafter I received another envelope from him in the mail.  Inside it was another check, effectively doubling my stipend, with a note explaining that the premiere had far exceeded his every expectation.

If you are at all sentimentally inclined, this is not the sort of piece that will likely leave you with dry eyes, so I suggest a handkerchief.  Sound file link here, score attached.  


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Very touching piece.

At first I will admit I thought it wouldn't be my type of music (though that wouldn't have detracted from the quality of the composition, it's just me) but actually I came to like it a lot. You certainly nailed the transition from mourning to hope. The voice is very nicely scored too.

I can definitely understand why your patron raised your stipend - absolutely fantastic.

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Thank you, Marc.  I can appreciate that this may not be everybody's cup of tea, but it's kind of you to see the merit in it anyway, and say so.

I cannot begin to describe how I wrung myself out emotionally composing this piece.  When it was done, I collapsed into a deep depression, and it was days before I could make it back to some semblance of normalcy.  I'm just glad that it does its job effectively.    

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