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Paul Carr in conversation with Brian Kay

Before our performance of Requiem for an Angel, Brian Kay talked to Paul Carr about its genesis. This is an edited version of that conversation.

Spring Concert 2016Brian: Our distinguished president, Bob Chilcott, says that every composer has a Requiem in him, and that something has to act as a spur to composition. What was your experience?

Paul: I think at the back of every composer’s mind is the thought that a Requiem is a very popular musical form and if you write a Requiem that is sing-able or tuneful people will probably want to do it. It involves using large forces but it may mean taking you as a composer further than say a concerto.

By a strange quirk of fate Gavin my brother commissioned me to write a choral work [for The Athenaeum Singers in Warminster] and so I thought it should be a Requiem: at the back of my mind was the thought that it was going to be for my mother [who was ill at the time]. I actually finished the original version one week before she died, so I then dedicated it to her memory.

Gavin then came to stay with me for two weeks and I played it for him; he said it was special but it needed to go a lot further. Hence this simpler, less orchestrated version became through various arguments the version you are going to hear tonight. Thank goodness that happened because it is one of the pieces that I would want to take with me.


Brian: You mentioned tunefulness, writing tunes and making music – tunes are back in fashion – do you enjoy writing tuneful music?

Paul: When I started writing music I was influenced by composers such as Aaron Copeland, Benjamin Britten, Arnold, Vaughan Williams, and Elgar, but in the 70’s people rejected that … it was all part of the experimentation in creation of music: a necessary process as not everything can be sing-able, some things have to be painful and hurtful. However that is not for me. I have always stayed true to myself but I do not think of myself as a tunesmith, rather as a composer with love and with passion. If there is one thing that I want people to take away from this work it is the feeling of love and passion and heartache.


Brian: You put extra texts in to the Requiem. Can you tell us more about that?

Paul: Britten interspersed the most marvellous texts from Wilfred Owen into the War Requiem and so did John Rutter in his glorious Requiem. That was an iconic moment as the Rutter Requiem developed this innovation in the War Requiem by setting other texts woven into the fabric – a marvellous idea – and used texts that would resonate with audiences of today. Even the Latin texts are also translated into English.

I interspersed the Teresa of Avila poem along with Emily Dickinson- I’ve always loved Emily Dickinson – and the sixth movement is a setting of a love poem by an American actor and poet, Jack Larson. It had already been set to music by Ned Rorem.

I wrote to Jack Larson, who was 84 then, and asked for permission to use his poem. He wrote back, saying he would love that. I wanted to use it because I think Requiems are also about us, those of us who have suffered, those of us who are left behind to grieve. It’s a Requiem for anyone who needs to feel comfort.

Brian: We are looking forward to it. Thank you for being with us.

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