Requiem for My Mother Themes and Variations (Digital Download)


Requiem for My Mother Themes and Variations (Digital Download)


Special Digital Download edition featuring 6 tracks from the film documentary and outtakes that complete the audible story to this amazing production. For complete liner notes, read additional info.

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Requiem for My Mother-Theme and Variations

Stephen Edwards

Program Notes


I wrote Requiem for My Mother as a remembrance for my mother, Rosalie Edwards, whose passion for music transformed my life and was my constant inspiration. I began the Requiem as a way of dealing with my deep sense of sorrow at my mother’s death in 2006. I took my talent (composition) and turned it into a vehicle to cathartically deal with the loss - to give my mom back the gift of music that she so selflessly gave to me from my very earliest memory.


I was honored to present the premiere at the Vatican, in a performance by the Continuo Arts Symphonic Chorus & Orchestra with the City of Prague Philharmonic, at the International Festival Pro Musica e Arte Sacra in 2008. I had the privilege of working closely with my colleague and friend, conductor Candace Wicke, who masterfully assembled and led a chorus of over 170 singers, including over 50 children, and a 50 piece orchestra from Prague.


Requiem is the subject of an hour-long documentary that premiered on American Public Media in 2017, directed by and co-produced by myself and David Haugland with Julie Hartley as the producer.  The film, which took almost 10 years to create, features behind-the-scenes views of the choral and orchestral rehearsals, the recording studio experience, reflections by musicians and members of my family, and the performance of Requiem in one of the most beautiful and sacred places in the world, the Basilica of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Rome. 


Requiem for My Mother is an 11-movement major choral work. As soon as I wrote this composition, I was giving it away to others - a musical “gift” if you will - so they could experience their own set of unique emotions based on what I had written.  This album features 5 of the original tracks, plus 10 variations and new interpretations of the original themes done in various ways.


Track 1: Requiem Aeternam: The first movement opens with a flute solo in honor of Rosalie since she was an accomplished flutist.  Having a children’s chorus introduce the first theme was my idea before I wrote a single note of the theme.  A good friend of mine reminded me of the quote from Chesterton - "What was wonderful about childhood is that anything in it was a wonder.  It was not merely a world full of miracles; it was a miraculous world."   My method was to sit with the text and let the Ancient Latin syllables lead me to the appropriate sounds I heard in my head to accompany the text.  Then all I had to do was write what I heard.


Track 2: Requiem Aeternam to in Paradisum: This variation was written in 2015 and also recorded by the City of Prague Philharmonic, and ended up getting used in the 2017 film Requiem for My Mother – starts with the familiar “Requiem Aeternam” theme in the violins – and transitions quickly to several other keys.  After a short brass chorale, the piece features the ever-present flute solo (as a tribute to my mother Rosalie, who was a fine flutist).  Then we transition to one more heroic statement of the theme, led by the trumpet – immediately segueing into “in Paradisum” played poingnantly in the cellos and French horns – again featuring a flute solo – which is quickly taken over by the brass which leads to a climatic ending.  This variation is featured as underscore at the end of the documentary Requiem for My Mother.


Track 3: Requiem Travel montage – another variation on the “Requiem Aeternam” theme that moves seamlessly through several keys – with fast movement in the strings that exemplifies the great journey that the choirs traveled from the US to Rome to perform the Requiem in 2008.  This variation also ended up as underscore in the documentary Requiem for My Mother over the animated travel montage.


Track 4: Children’s Choral Odyssey – once again integrating a part of the “Requiem Aeternam” theme in the Children’s chorus – which is handed off to the adult chorus – I enlisted the talents of my colleague Jimi Englund to create a large, driving drum group that accompanies this new arrangement.


Track 5: Magical Adventure: A new arrangement co-written with my colleague Jose Varon – features short samples of the Children’s Chorus and Adult chorus and adds a modern, filmatic twist to the now-familiar Requiem themes – playful and intense at the same time – this setting re-invents the Requiem thematic material and takes it to a whole new place.


Track 6: Requiem Aeternam Children’s Variation – a modern twist to the familiar theme, featuring small string section, piano, percussion, and the children’s chorus by itself, this crossover-classical treatment allows the children to shine on top of a more contemporary orchestral and percussive setting.


Track 7: Dies Irae:  In many ways, this was the most difficult movement to compose because there are so many impossibly famous versions of this text that it took almost all my creative energy to block out the great musical works that came before me - especially the Mozart and Verdi Dies Irae movements.  That challenge and seemed adversity allowed me to have my first "Eureka!" moment while writing this entire work when the odd-meter (3/4-3/4-4/4) theme dawned on me while sitting at the piano one day.  Again, the innocence of the treble voices seemed completely welcome on the text "O tu, Deus Majestatis" - better known as the Doxology (a short hymn of praise to God) - to lead us back into more of the "fire & brimstone" of the Dies Irae itself with the women in the upper registers this time.  Also - the orchestra has a chance to shine as there are many intricate scales for the strings and winds, large chords for the brass section, and plenty of work for the percussion section to keep the odd-meter train on its musical tracks.


Track 8: Sanctus:  Treble voices sing "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts" under a pulsating string section, and the adults, inspired by the wise innocence of the children, join and somehow musically learn from them the correct way.  Then, in turn, the adults with their experience and wisdom musically enrich the landscape of the theme, which again makes the children extend their musical vocabulary in one short movement - and they both build up to the ending with full support of the orchestra.


Track 9: Sanctus Solo Piano: A look at how this piece was originally written, I sat down at my Steinway and recorded this version of the piece only after I had written the fully fleshed-out orchestral version that is heard on track 8. 


Track 10: Pie Jesu: This is the very first movement I composed and the only one my mother heard in sketch form before she died. It is easily the most tuneful movement of the entire work.  The adult chorus is in an accompaniment mode along with the orchestra as the treble voices carry the mood here and end in a heavenly move up the scale to the top of their range.  Had I not written this first, I'm not even sure there would have been a treble chorus feature in this work, which would have drastically changed the musical message of the Requiem.


Track 11: Dawn of Innocence:  Again, enlisting the talents of my colleague Jimi Englund, I took snippets of the original “Pie Jesu” and reconstituted them with Jimi’s drums to create a large, driving arrangement.


Track 12: Dark Choir: Agnus Dei is the only movement of the Requiem that is a cappella - so I invited composer Scott Marcussen to take a sample of the Agnus Dei choir and reconstitute it as a new orchestral track - as if I had intended this movement to have orchestral all along.  The result is a dynamic trailer-like treatment of this movement that sounds like it could fit in with the sound of the other 10 movements of the original Requiem.


Track 13: Agnus Dei Solo Piano: When I was working with conductor Candace Wicke on finishing the Requiem, one of the last movements I wrote was “Agnus Dei.”  At her suggestion, I wrote this movement to feature choir with no orchestral accompaniment.  When I finished writing “Agnus Dei,” I sent her a piano recording similar to the one featured on this disc (the original recording was accidentally lost, so I recreated it here). My piano interpretation was my way of demonstrating to her how I wanted the movement performed, including dynamics and tempi. 


Track 14: In Paradisum:  Again, treble voices start a cappella until the pulsating, perpetual and reassuring string section comes in to support the women singing the tuneful In Paradisum, echoing the tunefulness of the Pie Jesu.  Children's voices keep echoing In Paradisum as the adults plea for the angels to receive the departed soul into heaven.  As the entire chorus sings chorus angelorum, they bring back the theme originally heard at the very beginning of the piece by the children singing Requiem Aeternam.   The Coda of the movement and the piece feature the children echoing the adults singing Requiem and children end the work by singing In paradisum with an imperfect interval, a major 2nd, that by definition is unresolved, and the circle of life continues. 


Track 15: Children’s Choral Paradise: Once again borrowing the children’s chorus recording of “in Paradisum,” I enlisted the talents of my friend Jimi Englund, and together we reconstituted the structure of the piece not to include the adults, but rather just the children chanting “Paradisum” in a continuous hypnotic fashion over a calming but perpetual rhythmic accompaniment – bolstered with orchestral sounds. 


~ Stephen Edwards