June - November 2006, Kessel-Lo

The Idea

In January 2006 I agreed to organise a concert with the Vocal Ensemble Markant, which I conduct, and the string orchestra Scordatura, conducted by Daan Janssens. At first, our intention was to perform some existing music, but when the music we'd liked to order proved too expensive for the orchestra (20th century music that had to be rented) we decided to write something ourselves.

Daan came up with the idea to start from the Missa Pro Defunctis, composed by Cristóbal de Morales, alter the music and add some of our own. Moreover, the parts we'd add would be critical towards belief. I instantly liked the idea of using religious music this way because it is something you don't hear very often. Lots of new, religious music does exist, and even more composers write music that doesn't have anything to do with religion. But to use the subject of religion and be critical about it in the composition itself seemed something worth doing to me.

Of course about anyone can make a few bold statements against religion and so can I. But I thought it wouldn't be very relevant just stating my own ideas here. So I started reading and came across the essay Why I am not a Christian by Bertrand Russell. I instantly liked it. In it, Russell tries to argue against religion by citing from the bible quite literally. In his time this was perfectly sound, because most religious people where interpreting those words very literal too. In these days one might say that this critic does is less relevant because belief isn't about that any more. But then again, one forgets about the thousands of religious fanatics that still exist. Obviously we think foremost about the Islam when it comes to fanatics, but in fact they exist in every religion. Therefore i think Russell's text is still very relevant.

But how to set the words of an essay, relevant or not, to music? They're not exactly poetry. I chose to look up the Latin version of the passages Russell cites and use them in my composition. The most relevant parts of the essay could still be read to the public or printed in program notes.

Daan used another starting point. A text from Petrarca which has nothing to do with religion at all. I won't go further into the reasons for this decision, simply because I'm not him.

The composition





After working out this concept, we had to divide the work. We both wanted to write some parts of the music, but saw that our musical style was too different to write parts together. Since the first parts (Introitus and Kyrie) would be merely an orchestration of Morales' music, and Daan was busy with some other music he urgently had to complete, I wrote them. I just keyed in the notes from the original, transposed it to something singable for the choir and doubled some parts in the orchestra.

Download: Introitus - Kyrie


Graduale / character of christ

We agreed that the Graduale would also start from Morales' music, but should be altered in some way. I also did this part. I started out with the choir singing Morales and the orchestra adding some spectral tones. After that, I started erasing notes from the choral parts and I made it more rhythmical. As a joke, I ended with something that actually sounds older than the original by making the rhythms sound much like an hoquetus heard in music from, for example, Guillaume De Machaut.

Download: Graduale

The character of Christ

From the ending chord of the Graduale à la Machaut came the beginning of my own work: The character of Christ. (The titles are taken from the part of Russell's essay which i use.) In my composition for choir The Gpl (written in 2005) I worked with only two tones (a-bes), constantly audible throughout the music. I wanted to use this idea again in dEUS, but take it a bit further. So in this first part I used f - ges, and also a quarter tone between them. With only this material and some very unstable rhythms, I made a short part where a very dense sound gradually grows and shrinks again at the end. Because it is hard enough for a choir to sing quarter tones in very irregular rhythms, everything is constructed out of different sorts of canonic techniques.

Download: Russell's text - The character of Christ




Pie Jesu

These parts were written by Daan.

Download: Sequentia - Pie Jesu


Offertorium / Defects in Christ's Teaching

The first half of this work goes further on the ideas used in The character of Christ. But i skipped the quartertones to make the sound a bit less dense. Furthermore I wanted a more 'clear' rhythmical basis. While some instruments, together with the choir, still have irregular rhythms, notes are much more accentuated. And there are always one or two instruments playing quarternotes. The only part I used from the original Offertorium is a small quote from Morales' music in the violins. This part ends with the shot of an alarm-pistol. I used pistol here, instead of some percussion, because I wanted a sound that clears out everything. A pistol, if used with a calibrated bullet, does exactly that. It sounds equally loud at all frequencies. While that sound fades out, the second part of the piece starts.

The second part starts out from from another idea I am using a lot in my recent compositions. (For example 3 electronic pieces and Departed.) I wanted to mix different layers of music that seemingly have nothing to do with each other towards one vast soundscape. The main layer (the one that starts last) is based on the previous music. It still has an f as the central tone, now with e - ges around it. Added to this are now also the fifth c - b - des. This is sung by a soprano, accompanied by the choir and the lower instruments of the orchestra. Meanwhile the violins play something as far off as possible. A semi-tonal counterpoint in B-minor. And at the same time four soloists are singing the ending of Morales' Offertorium in the background.

Download: Russell's text - Offertorium/Defects in Christ's teaching - Parts for the vocal quartet


A-elaboratie, Solo, Agnus Dei

These parts were written by Daan. If I remember correctly, the last note of the Sanctus is the starting point for the A-elaboratie.

Download: A-elaboratie - Solo - Agnus Dei


Comunnio / The moral Problem

It seemed nice (nothing more, nothing less) to start the last part of the music again with Morales' music. But of course I wanted to get back to my own concept. The violins start again with with the B-minor counterpoint while the sopranos and altos keep repeating a phrase from the Comunnio. A low a is added and this is a starting point for, again, music with only two tones. This time I do not start with f - ges, but with a - bes. I wanted to assemble something like those fanatic street preachers whom you can often see in big cities like London and New York. Russell's text is therefore sung through paper cones that deform sound a bit like old-fashioned speakers do. Changing from f to a seemed a good thing because of this it enhanced the feeling that this part tries to 'overrule' the other music.

The music could have ended there, but it seemed better to me to add one last twist: going back to f - ges. This time very loud and rhythmical, and alterations towards c - b - des that resemble the second part of the Offertorium. Better to stop with a bang than fade out, some say :-)

Download: Russell's text - Comunnio

You can also download a front-page I've made, in case you want to make yourself a nice book out of this.


We've made a recording on the night of the première. Of course you are welcome to listen to it. Keep in mind however that this is a live recording, and not a really good one. The church were we did this concert was not really fit for this kind of music. Especially in the more quiet parts you can often hear the heating system as a sort of low noise.

But since this is the only recording we have, I've decided to put it online anyway.