Requiem

Following the triumphant success of his 1884 Stabat Mater, Dvořák received numerous requests from abroad to compose similarly large scale vocal works. Thus he wrote the Spectre's Bride for Birmingham and St Ludmilla for Leeds. Although these enjoyed considerable success, Dvořak was dissatisfied with them: he felt that in contrast to the Stabat Mater, which was universal in what it had to say to everyone, his imagination had been fettered in these new works by unimportant texts. After he completed his Eighth Symphony, he determined to set the traditional Requiem text to music for his pleasure, rather than that of a commissioner. Work on the Requiem began on January 1st 1890 and was completed on the last day of October that same year. It was premiered twelve months later on October 9th at the Birmingham Music Festival.
 As we can sense from the location of its premiere, Dvořák's Requiem was written primarily for concert hall, rather than liturgic performance, but the order of the ceremony and its content naturally became the basis for the musical form. The work is divided into two sections. In the first, which embraces the Introitus, Graduale and Sequentia (the Dies Irae), pain, contrition and the pleading for absolution gain musical expression. The second section comprises of the Offertorium, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, and is the music of consolation and hope. (Dvořák sets the Pie Jesus between the Sanctus and Agnus, and this untraditional  move may have been inspired by Verdi's example.) The openings of the movements create the contrast between the two large sections: the faltering rhythm of the melody heard at the beginning seems to evoke Gregorian chant, but in notes that are distorted painfully into chromaticism. In the Offertorium the Quam olim Abrahae fugue is written around an ancient Czech hymn melody: “Let us sing with joy, let us praise the Lord our Father.” We should not overemphasise the contrasts of moods between the two sections: the opening melody, in true symphonic fashion, permeates the texture of the entire work.