The Requiem (2004) of Karl Jenkins is a very special piece to me. It is written for orchestra and choir (with a soprano solo part) and shakuhachi. In addition to the usual movements of a Requiem (Latin mass for the soul of the dead), Jenkins chose 5 Japanese haikus (poems) about the cycle of life and death. These poems are sung by the women of the choir, accompanied by the orchestra and a solo shakuhachi part. The music is written in Western notation, and can be played by a transverse flute instead, if there is no shakuhachi player. Of course, the effects and colours are then totally different. The Western notation allows the shakuhachi player to choose his/her own fingerings and lengths of flutes and go deeper in the music by making his/her own interpretation. This piece allows me to use my classical background as a flutist to perform Japanese shakuhachi in a classical music setting, uniting my two musical worlds.
From West to East
The first time I performed this piece was very challenging, the challenge being to play shakuhachi and no flute, to find my way through this classical notation and make it sound “Japanese”. I had to let go of all my reflexes as a flutist. When the orchestra is not used to play with a traditional instrument, it can take a bit of time to get to know each other, but that’s why rehearsals are for!
The performance is always a great moment. The contrast between the second movement (Dies irae) and the third movement (The snow of yesterday), the first of the haikus with shakuhachi, often creates a big surprise in the audience. As the works progresses, the Latin text and the haikus get mixed in the two last movements with shakuhachi (Benedictus-Having seen the moon and Agnus Dei-farewell). The spirituality of the male voices singing the Latin mass joins the spirituality of the shakuhachi through the haiku sung by the female voices. The power of music…
The Requiem consists in 13 movements, among them 5 haikus. The publisher had the good idea to print the text on the shakuhachi part, both in Japanese (romans characters) and English, as inspiration for the musician.
3. The snow of yesterday
that fell like cherry blossoms
is water once again.
6. From deep in my heart
how beautiful are
the snow clouds in the west.
8. Now as a spirit
I shall roam
the summer fields.
10. Having seen the moon
even I take leave of this life
with a blessing.
I pass as all things do
like dew on the grass.
“A Requiem is a Mass for the souls of the dead. In general I have set the usual Latin movements but in keeping with my usual trait of drawing from other cultures, I have also set five Japanese haiku ‘death’ poems. Such poems are usually to do with nature, have a single idea, and consist of seventeen syllables divided 5-7-5 over three lines. As one can see from the text, the Japanese view nature’s water cycle [precipitation] as being synonymous with life.
I have combined the Western and Eastern texts in two of the haiku movements. Having Seen The Moon and Farewell, which incorporate the Benedictus and the Agnus Dei respectively. Both are intoned by male voices in a monastic style as a counterpoint to the Japanese text sung by females.
The instrumentation of these haiku settings includes the ancient Japanese wind instrument the shakuhachi. Elsewhere, as usual, I have used some ethnic drums [e.g. Arabic darabuca, Japanese daiko, frame drums] and even a hip-hop rhythm in the Dies Irae!
The work is dedicated to my late father, a musician and an inspiration.”