About this Recording
8.559846-47 - KROUSE, I.: Armenian Requiem (Lark Master Singers, Tziatzan Children's Choir, UCLA Philharmonia, Stulberg)

Ian Krouse (b. 1956)
Armenian Requiem, Op. 66 (2015)


The Armenian Requiem was born of a desire to contribute a living, commemorative gesture on the occasion of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide. It expresses in music our collective pain for what has passed and our hope for what is to come. In publishing this work and making it accessible, we offer up our commemoration to time and to the future generations who might breathe new life into this beautifully rendered piece of classical, sacred music, giving eternal voice to our sorrow and our light.

In creating a work of this scope, which attempts to preserve as its defining characteristic an Armenian musical expression, there were several challenges that had to be addressed: polyphonic music only began to develop in Armenia during the mid-19th century. Its practice, even into the 20th century, was based on Western classical traditions and subsequently influenced by the Russian school. Therefore, many early examples of Armenian polyphonic music lack a definable Armenian character. Furthermore, as a part of the Soviet Union during the 20th century, much of Armenia’s musical practice was devoid of any religious connotation. No emphasis was placed on sacred works, reflecting the Soviet world-view. Therefore, Armenian composers have not appropriately addressed Armenian sacred music in their work.

Additionally, it is important to note the absence of the requiem in Armenian sacred music. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the Armenian Church does not ritualise the requiem as a separate, full service. Rather, the common practice is to append a short remembrance service following the formal Mass, and only by request of the parish seeking to commemorate a deceased beloved. Thus, the requiem among Armenians has always been dynamic—elongated or shortened on demand and incorporating some combination of two to three chants, a few prayers, and readings from the Bible. Previous attempts at writing requiems were sporadic, with an inclination to follow Western patterns, and often striving towards soul-stirring drama. There are perhaps two or three Armenian composers who have attempted to meet this challenge, but they have relied on the text and order of the Catholic Requiem Mass. The latest example is Tigran Mansurian in 2014, whose Requiem has the attribute of sounding Armenian, as it is built on Armenian modes and expressive gestures, but remains structured on the model of the Latin Mass.

Until 2015, a truly Armenian requiem as a standalone, elaborate ceremony, akin to those of the Catholic tradition, had never been attempted, despite the fact that the Latin Service had become an engaging and charismatic mainstay on concert stages since the 18th century. In this regard, Armenian Requiem is a first, both for Armenian liturgical music and for the canon of Armenian classical music.

In 2015, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, The Lark Musical Society performed Armenian Requiem—working to ensure an Armenian expression both in musical predilection and structure—thus responding to this absence in our sacred music. Set to music by American composer Ian Krouse, Armenian Requiem is structured after the example of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. Britten had used the Latin Requiem Mass as his frame but interpolated its sections with words by the English Poet Wilfred Owen. Britten’s inspiration spurred Krouse’s imagination to find a similar solution to the question of an Armenian requiem.

An issue that needed to be addressed early on in the compositional process was that of the general nature of Armenian musical expression, which is typically succinct, and occupies minimal space—Komitas’s folk compositions are a prime example. Armenians, as reflected in the churches, structures, and the land itself, have become adept at occupying small spaces, yet they fill them with a whole universe of potential. The Western world, on the other hand, reaches for the pinnacle of grand expressiveness. The Armenian Requiem presents the Armenian melos through Western musical traditions and it was important to capture the grand scale of a true requiem Mass, the expansiveness of which is not typical of Armenian music, while simultaneously maintaining a purely Armenian sensibility. This is why, upon analysis, you will find the use of musical devices such as ternary form, passacaglias, fugues and other forms not apposite to Armenian structures blended seamlessly by Krouse, creating a marriage of Western and Armenian forms.

The backbone of the Armenian Requiem is built on seven pillars, drawing from the traditional liturgical chants already set by Komitas and thereby retaining a purely Armenian character. These chants drawn from Armenian liturgy are those typically employed in the various requiem services appended to the Armenian Mass. Then, following the example of Britten, this structure of seven is complemented with interludes built on texts by Armenian poets from the 10th century through the 20th century, culled and assembled to illustrate our collective response to the Armenian Genocide.

Of these poems, four are worth mentioning to better illustrate the general reasoning and purpose behind their choice. Two of them must be considered essential to represent the Armenian soul and story: the first being segments of Word 2 from Grigor Narekatsi’s Book of Lamentations, in which the poet attempts to establish two differing personalities—God and the supplicant who is pleading for salvation from Him. The second is a poem from the 19th century by Father Leo Alishan, serving as a short historical survey of the Armenian people. The next two poems were written by victims of the Armenian Genocide. It seemed only fitting that a requiem commemorating this catastrophic national tragedy should include the voices of some of its victims. These two poems, one by Siamanto (1878–1915) and the other by Danial Varoujan (1884–1915)—members of the intelligentsia rounded up and executed in the opening days of the Ottoman campaign of extermination—frame the entire work. Siamanto’s poem expresses his wish to go in search of those he has lost, and to die singing. It is a simple poem on the importance of culture over warfare, and his desire to fight against oppression not with arms and violence, but with immortal song. Daniel Varoujan’s work is used as the final poem of the Requiem; in it we find the poet’s ardent wish to spread hope and good wishes to humankind throughout the world.

The overall structure seeks to marry the religious, ritual and spiritual component of a requiem with a depiction of the story, spirit and hope of the Armenian people. It was a personal goal to frame a requiem that does not dwell on mourning, nor call for acts of vengeance. Rather, it is an appeal to the Creator and the listener to renew their faith in goodness, to rise above vindictiveness, and aspire towards universal brotherhood. In this way the Armenian Requiem can be a testament to the Armenian desire to grow anew and live peacefully among its neighbours.

Krouse has developed a deep appreciation and understanding of the Armenian musical idiom and has long held an ardent interest in Armenian music. Prior to the Armenian Requiem he explored this interest in creating two other compositions of Armenian Music: Nocturnes and Fire of Sacrifice.

In addition to his focused research and passion for the genre, Krouse has also brought an intuitive and immediate understanding of how to approach the structure of this composition. First, he approached the four aforementioned poems and created specific compositions for each one, thereby establishing the musical language that forms the basis of the Armenian Requiem. Then he orchestrated the seven chants which serve as the pillars of the piece, in the spirit of Komitas, a composer he greatly admires. The result is an individual and unique synthesis of Western and Armenian musical languages that successfully captures the nature and spirit of the chosen texts.

The Genocide inflicted on the Armenian people was like a devastating forest fire, decimating its population. It left a once vibrant region barren and riddled with death. A forest fire, however, while destructive, is not final. In fact we, as a people, cling to the parable of the aspen, a tree unique in its capacity for renewal. An aspen grove is perhaps the largest single living organism on earth, with individual trees that are linked together by a vast underground root system, making up a single colony that can span acres of land. This means that whenever one aspen is cut down, or many perish in a fire, the roots beneath the ground remain unaffected and alive, soon producing new shoots to replace the old. This Armenian Requiem—a poignant meditation on loss—is a stark look at man’s inhumanity towards his fellow man. Against this backdrop, the work conveys a resolve to live again, to regroup and move forward; it reminds us that the Armenians are a people with deep roots connecting them across vast distances and through time, always carrying hope for new growth.

Vatsche Barsoumian

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