This Mourning

for tenor, large chorus and orchestra
Duration: 17 minutes

tenor solo-chorus (SATB)
0.2.0.2-0.2.3(III=bass tbn.).
0-timp-perc(2)-harp-strings (8.8.6.4.2)
[Very similar to the forces for the Mozart Requiem]

Note: Score also calls for a consort of glasses (specific pitches indicated in score).These can be played by members of the chorus.

Commissioned by The Washington Chorus and Orchestra with generous support from the Booz Allen Hamilton Corporation.

Premiered on November 19, 2006 at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall in Washington DC by The Washington Chorus and Orchestra, Robert Shafer, conducting. The tenor soloist was Michael Forest and the consort of crystal glasses were played by the Rock Creek Singers of the Gay Men’s Chorus, Washington DC.

Full Score available for purchase HERE

Piano Reduction available for purchase HERE

Listen/Peruse

There will come a time when you believe everything is finished; that will be the beginning.
— Louis L’Amour, Lonely on the Mountain
When people sing ... I enter the earth. I go in at a place like a place where people drink water. I travel a long way, very far. When I emerge, I am already climbing. I'm climbing threads, the threads that lie over there in the south. I climb one and leave it, then I climb another one. Then I leave it and climb another. . . . And when you arrive at God's place, you make yourself small. You have become small. You come in small to God's place. You do what you have to do there. Then you return to where everyone is, and you hide your face. You hide your face so you won't see anything. You come and come and come and finally you enter your body again. All the people who have stayed behind are waiting for you. … You enter, enter the earth, and you return to enter the skin of your body ... Then you begin to sing.
—Joseph Campbell in The Way of the Animal Powers describing a transformational journey as told by a !KUNG bushman.

Program Note

"This will be our reply to the violence: to make music more intensely,
more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before."
~ Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein uttered these words in the aftermath of one of our nation’s greatest tragedies – the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Although he referred to a different specific event, Bernstein’s sentiment was no less sincerely taken to heart in the aftermath of the horrors of September 11th. Though exceptionally few silver linings can ever be discovered from the dark cloud of terror that still hangs over our heads, a number of beautifully profound musical statements have emerged in response – most notably, perhaps, John Adams’ stunning On the Transmigration of Souls, winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize in Music. Likewise, it was this desire to make music passionately that led Robert Shafer and the Washington Chorus to commission young visionary Joel Puckett to compose This Mourning in commemoration of the fifth anniversary of that day.

This Mourning bridges the gap between Requiem mass and tone poem, cast in three interconnected movements with common thematic material stated throughout. Puckett’s composition essentially begins where Mozart’s Requiem ends, with a movement based on the Communio entitled “Lux.” The movement opens with a unison A sounded in the choir, which unfolds into a tone cluster representing on a small scale the downward spiral from serenity to chaos as the choir intones the first line of Emily Dickinson’s Requiem: “Taken from us this morning…” The orchestra explodes out of the final syllable and Puckett immediately begins distorting the sensation of time and pulse by combining a dirge-like tempo (marked “Brutally Slow”), phased glissandi and canonic melodies in the strings and complex rhythmic subdivisions in harp and percussion. After this brief introduction, the “Lux aeterna” takes over in the choir, but out of time and with a frenetic rhythmic ostinato so that the text – translated “Let eternal light shine upon them, O Lord, with your saints forever, for you are merciful” – becomes a percussive maelstrom of dissonance. As this occurs, a long harmonic slide from the initial key of A begins, which isn’t fully realized until the end of the second movement. The orchestra ratchets up the intensity, interrupted only briefly at the movement’s climactic moment when small consorts of singers break from the chaos of the choir to sing again the opening phrase “Taken from us…” The orchestra begins anew, this time adding a rhythmic ostinato that becomes the basis for the second movement, until the frenzy of sound stops suddenly as the violins sound a placid extended D major harmony signaling the entrance of the tenor soloist with the poetry of Thomas Bailey Aldrich: “Today a god died…”

The second movement, “today a god died,” is fully given to the solo tenor, as he recites Aldrich’s free-verse elegy for Abraham Lincoln, “A Great Man’s Death,” over a violently dark riff in low strings. Puckett uses several eloquent moments of text painting, such as the first major transitional shift, where an abrupt orchestral pause precludes the phrase “has silenced her forever” (set keenly on the same opening A that began the piece). The climactic moment of the work occurs as the subsequent glassy harmonies, reminiscent of the music of Joseph Schwantner, flower out to a robust E major, signaling finally the end of the long downward harmonic progression with the text “the sun will sink.”

The third movement, “taken from us this morning,” finally presents in full length the Dickinson Requiem, accompanied perpetually by a consort of crystal glasses sounding a haunting clash of semitones. Much of the textural innovation of the opening movement is rekindled here, with staggered out-of-time choral and orchestral entrances. In this case, however, there is a sense of repose and clarity created by much slower and longer melodic lines. The implied return up through the murky harmonies of the first two movements finally is achieved upon the fourth presentation of “Taken from us…” as the poem continues. The finale reaches its poignant climax upon the ending of the penultimate stanza: “There must be guests in Eden. All the rooms are full.” The music then slowly subsides into nothingness as the tenor soloist sings the final lines, indicated “Simply, as a lullaby.” Puckett adds a spectral choir upon the last word, changing the text: “Far as the east from even, dim as the border star – Courtiers quaint in Kingdoms, our departed are… taken…” As the last vestiges of violin sound evaporate, the crystal glass consort continue to sound, exiting slowly, one by one, until all that remains is the solitary pure A that began the work, a distant ethereal memory of the lives lost on a dark morning in September.

Note by Jake Wallace (October 2006)