Francesco Filidei’s Requiem, commissioned by Casa da Música, Ensemble intercontemporain and Les Métaboles, is set to make its world premiere in Oporto, October 20. Performing the piece will be the Remix Ensemble, which, with this commission and other special collaborations, celebrates 20 years of activity in contemporary music. Here they will be accompanied by the Casa da Música Choir.
for choir (16 voces) and 17 instruments
Choir (16 voces) + fl, ob, cl b si b, fg, trb si b, trbn, cel, a, perc (=2 esec.), fsm / strings (18.104.22.168.1)
Why a Requiem. Composer’s Notes
So here I am, the score is finished, with the program notes still to be written. Oh, my eyesight’s gotten worse, my back is killing me, and the same old frivolous questions come back to haunt me. What to do with life and the perception that time is fleeting? What to do with all my memories and the past itself? And what about all these questions that keep hounding me? The answers to which leave the seeker empty-handed. On a lighter note, what the devil am I supposed to write to fill up half a page on the concert program? For a Requiem? The risk of slipping into facile rhetoric is just around the corner, and I’d like to avoid coming off as the last harbinger of doom digging my claws into the latest crisis that happens to pop up out of nowhere.
In any case, I’ve given up trying to figure out whether there’s any sense in composing a Requiem today.
Whatever drove me to write one is a mystery, and one I still have to solve.
What is certain, is that ever since I composed my first works, I’ve placed at the center of my reflections an investigation into all the absurdity that seems to accompany us wherever we go, whatever we do. We grow up full of promises and hope, and we eventually vanish into thin air, leaving behind almost nothing that the few acquaintances we have can hold onto. And the fact that there’s no complaints office where you can go to gripe about the wretchedness of existence doesn’t help matters much when you’re trying to make sense of it all.
I can already imagine what might remain of me after I’m gone. Maybe a few remarks from some hypothetical artistic director, like, “Oh, yeah, Filidei… Of course, I remember him. He was the guy who was always demanding more money for his commissions, who would write those pathetic program notes and send them in after his latest threatening phone call. And he would always be tinkering around with those bird calls that he peppered his scores with. No wonder that one day, poof! Someone must have taken him for a coot. And that was that. Anyway, all her ever wound up doing was recycling the old stuff, and that’s about it. Requiescat in pace, etc., etc. Amen”.
No, just joking. It’s not over for me, nor is it over for my rambling. I’m still here, bludgeoned by thoughts of the end, which only lead me back to the beginning. To the point where my music is overflowing with dances of death, the triumphs of death, finite gestures, the silence of death. I even came up with the ill-fated idea of writing The Funeral of the Anarchist Serantini, and when rehearsals rolled around, I’d read stuff like, “Thursday, 3 pm. Filidei: Funeral”.
Hasn’t the time come already to change directions, and start writing polkas and mazurkas? But how to put an end to this obsession with the end? Have a mass said in its name?
Perhaps not. Of all the music I’ve written, a Requiem was missing. So I added one, just for the sake of rounding things out. I suppose.
To anyone that might think it strange for a non-believer to write a Requiem, and using devotional lyrics to boot, I reply: If my becoming an organist was never a long way off from my need to write a Requiem, it is mostly due to my longing to evoke the melancholy sensation at the root of such a choice, the kind of feeling that only a form of music long since dead can conjure up.
If I don’t believe in God, I do make an effort to believe in the passion of our history and what we may remember from our past, as well as in the will to preserve all the emotion that survives. Which is why I like to use material rife with experiences lived. In them, it’s easier to recognize oneself and observe the pathways undertaken. A way to contradict, whenever necessary, those selfsame pathways, that, however, keep cropping up in the present. In any case, starting from scratch is pure utopia, so we might as well take that as a given. Then, once the piece has grown and reached maturity, its fate is whatever God may or may not have decided. Did I just say God? Maybe it’s the mocking effect of my last name that has always condemned me do the math whenever the topic of God happens to come up. Fingers crossed!
Still here, but it’s almost over. Just a few more lines to go, and I’ll have done my job with words (a dirty job, but somebody – in this case, me – has got to do it) instead of musical notes. Come to think of it, I’d like to see what a writer would be capable of if asked to explain one of his or her novels using sounds instead of words. Crash-bang-boom!
I’m losing it. Let’s get this over with. As for writers, one last thought. This work will premiere in Portugal, so I’d like to dedicate it to Antonio Tabucchi. Requiem is the title of one of his best books. The story is set in Lisbon, suspended in time. The last time I spoke with Tabucchi, it was one of those crazy encounters, like the ones he describes in that novel. He was very melancholy, sitting at the bar at the airport in Pisa. We agreed to meet up again in Paris, where he lived. But I ended up never seeing him again. This Requiem owes something to him. Despite the Latin. Despite the rigid forms, which he might not have approved of.
Photo: Olivier Roller