About this Recording
8.573277 - PINHO VARGAS, A.: Requiem / Judas (Gulbenkian Choir and Orchestra, J. Carneiro, Eldoro)

António Pinho Vargas (b. 1951)
Requiem • Judas


Requiem (2012)

This Requiem came about as the result of a proposal I made to the Music Department of the Gulbenkian Foundation in 2009, requesting a commission that would allow me to continue what I had begun in the oratorio Judas (secundum Lucam, Johannem, Matthaeum et Marcum), a commission from the Festival of Sacred Music in Viana do Castelo, where it was given its première in 2002 by the Gulbenkian Choir and Orchestra, directed by Fernando Eldoro, who performed it again in the Large Auditorium of the Gulbenkian Foundation in May 2004. These concerts have remained unforgettable for me. A composer carries out his work with the greatest dedication, but it is up to the singers and players to give it reality, to transform that group of signs written in the score into a sound event that is given over to the emotional perception of the listener. A score, in itself, is never unforgettable. This quality can only be attributed to a work at the moment of mediation—the concert—effected by the performance of the musicians. These were always exceptional. Once the commission was confirmed, I later decided that this new work would be a Requiem.

Writing a Requiem is, firstly, to give a “reply” to a history of numerous works of the past, some known by everyone, others—there must be hundreds—today unknown. Secondly, it is dealing with a liturgical text belonging to our Western Christian tradition but whose deeper meaning goes back to that moment when primitive man began to bury the dead, a moment identified by archaeologists as being the beginning, still prehistoric, of humanity’s long road towards self-awareness.

Having put things in this perspective, that is, a wider perspective than that of the history of music or, even, of Christianity, the central question of the text of the Mass for the dead—the Requiem—may perhaps be described by a single phrase: “God, receive unto Thyself those who have died”. There is nothing more universal for humanity than the ineluctable sequence of birth, life and death. But a composer, once he has decided to write a Requiem, has fewer transcendental tasks to carry out, but equally necessary. The first is to examine the various selections of text as a whole made by composers of the past, in order to establish a text. There are innumerable variants amongst the extant repertoire. I made my choice in accordance with the resonances that my memories, of various kinds, invited me to choose from among the texts extant in the liturgy, as all other composers have done, some excluding more, others less. Then, during the compositional act, as always happens with a text, certain sections of it acquire, during the work of composition, different degrees of importance, whether in the formal sense or in terms of the overall duration. If, nowadays, almost nobody claims a previously worked-out plan as being indispensable, on the contrary, I must underline that what can never be dispensed with is the work of selecting, of measuring, of criticizing, considering alternatives, of new choices, of verifying the proportions and the expressive rhetoric that finally come into existence, both in the use of the text itself, and in the resulting musical discourse. This is the work of making the artistic object. In it resides the essence of the work of the composer and of the inherent human reflection on finitude that a work of this kind places at the centre and, as a previous step, the creative desire.

Judas (secundum Lucam, Johannem, Matthaeum et Marcum) (2002)

I feel obliged to confess (ambiguous words, these) that the period during which I wrote this work was very intense for me. Perhaps because the Catholic education I received, taken together with my readings of the Bible when I was young and with the Judaeo-Christian values of our civilization, make each word of the liturgical text full of meanings and possible interpretations, confirmed by the vast Biblical exegesis and extensive literature concerning this episode. The Biblical texts underwent a different historical gestation, widely separated in time, and the establishment of canonical dogma took place over the course of several centuries. The narratives of the Old and New Testaments are full of symbols, and the exegesis necessary for their interpretation was in some senses the first hermeneutical practice. I had initially considered using other texts (António Patrício, Jorge Luís Borges), but finally I chose to use only the text from the four Gospels. Everything is there. Latin is a dead language but some of the expressions in the Biblical language have become permanent references in the values of our world.

The recent return of the sacred has produced innumerable works on liturgical texts that continue the great tradition of sacred music: Passio, Te Deum, Miserere, Requiem and De Profundis are titles of works written largely by religious composers, but also agnostics such as Ligeti. Ontological questioning is not exclusive to theologians, and the questions of death, of treason, of guilt, of doubt, of determinism and of free choice are eminently human.

I have already spoken and written enough about my musical opinions to allow me to do now as did Wagner, who wrote far more about his intentions than his technique. Indeed, I do not use “techniques”. Composing is a complex process, a being launched, during which things arise, forces to which one responds in some way. This being open to becoming, inherent in the creative process as I conceive of it, does not exclude historical awareness of the so-called materials (which will be very different for each composer), but rather the moving outwards of the creative process as such.

The conditions associated with this commission for choir and orchestra are also part of this. Given the impossibility of using soloists, for financial reasons, I had to find a solution for the words spoken by Jesus and Judas. I chose in the case of Jesus to use almost always female voices as a means, certainly arbitrary, of emphasizing some idea of human fragility. There is no sexual or transsexual speculation in this choice. In Judas’s speech of repentance, “Peccavi tradens sanguinem iustum”, there is a gradual progression from one voice (sopranos) on “peccavi” to four voices on “justum”. I organized the text into five specific scenes and an epilogue, the fourth and the fifth being subdivided into three “moments”. These formal decisions concerning the musical focus, the determinant textual-musical nucleus in each of the six sections, were taken during composition. The sixth section, the Epilogue, which I called “Scripturae” (eternal canon) is a kind of caesura, of a “commentary” in the work. It contains two phrases from Matthew, on the theme “all this took place that the scriptures might be fulfilled”.

Indeed, Judas Iscariot has carried the burden of infamous treason without pardon. And the possibility of this being as determined as the death of Christ, with no subsequent resurrection and glory, makes him a tragic figure in the sense that the Greeks, with their too-human gods, manipulators of the destiny of man, used the term. Jesus, at times too human (“Father, take this cup away from me”), betrayed by one of his chosen men, also awaiting a sacrificial death, in the name of the redemption of man, is no less tragic, though with the particular and ambivalent condition of God made man.

António Pinho Vargas
Translation by Ivan Moody

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