The In Paradisum from Nick Bicât’s Requiem was on BBC Radio 3’s PRIVATE PASSIONS programme on Sunday 18th April, chosen by the guest Margaret Heffernan. You can listen to the programme HERE, and purchase the CD from Amazon HERE.

Nick Bicât writes:

In 1979 I was commissioned me to write some music for a documentary television series she was producing about the French Revolution for the BBC. Part of this brief entailed setting some texts from the Requiem Mass. I found this task fascinating, but was reminded of how difficult it is to experience the intense excitement and anticipation the apostles and other early Christians must have felt when they set off in their boats across the Mediterranean, risking their lives to tell people about an extraordinary man and his dangerous, challenging ideas. It seems that the spiritual sense so universally felt is too often buried by the countless strata of explanation, rules, words and dogma which accumulate around all religions.

Some parts of the Requiem were performed at funerals in subsequent years, and many people asked me how they could hear the whole piece; one of these was Andrew Parrott, who urged me to develop the settings into a full Requiem. Through experience  I realised that Requiems should be written for the living, to explain or metabolise the death of someone loved, and not simply sound as if they were taken from an opera or an oratorio; rather than expressing a generalised lament, or anguish, or fear of damnation, they should be part of the search for understanding, the power of memory and love, to heal and to perpetuate the human spirit.

There is a difference between the personal and the private, and it becomes a dichotomy when ritual loses its connection with human experience; when the ritual stops working, it can seem that personal feelings have no place in the structure and must remain private.

One of the things I’m trying to do with the Requiem is to bridge this gap.

In researching early Christian memorial texts (particularly those from the catacombs in Rome, Greece, Alexandria and all around the Mediterranean) I was struck by the tone of the epitaphs – many written for people of no civic status or importance – the positive imagery, the loving tone of the inscriptions, and particularly by the absence of warnings about hell fire and torment, even the absence of the crucifix. In studying the evolution of the Requiem Mass for the Dead, it became clear that more and more fear and damnation entered the text as the centuries passed (notably the 28 verses of the Dies Irae (a 13th Century addition). Those epitaphs have a wonderfully matter-of-fact character; they are tender and optimistic, more about renewal than sin, and celebrate people from all walks of life. They are the simple and heartfelt words which people use to make their own ritual, and remind us of what underlies the monumental structure of the text we take for granted, of the human lives it is meant to serve.