Requiem, by Karl Jenkins. Performed by West Kazakhstan Philharmonic
Orchestra. 2005. Compact disc. EMI 7243 5 57966 2 2. Available in
music stores or online.
Haiku aficionados are likely to find haiku in unexpected places, and Requiem by preeminent Welsh classical composer Karl Jenkins may
at first seem an unlikely place. It is surprising, however, that it has apparently
not occurred to any prior composer to integrate Japanese death
poems (jisei) with the requiem musical form—a mass for the dead. Yet this
is just what Jenkins has done, with much success. In a stirring, melodic,
and at times energetic requiem, Jenkins presents five death haiku in rich
musical settings, interspersed with traditional Latin movements. The Latin
text is sung predominantly by male voices; the haiku are sung, in Japanese,
by females. This voicing makes it easy to identify the haiku during the
piece, and also emphasizes what may be considered to be a contemplative
feminine quality in the poems themselves. Each poem is sung several times,
with variations, sometimes drone-like, often with a shakuhachi countermelody.
The haiku settings make up 18 of the requiem’s 55 minutes, and
are generally among the composition’s quieter sections. The five haiku are
attributed to Gozan, Isshô, Hokusai, Kaga-no-Chiyo, and Banzan, and
the printed English translations appear to be taken, sometimes with minor
differences, from Yoel Hoffmann’s Japanese Death Poems (Boston: Tuttle,
1986). Hoffmann, however, is not credited for the translations. Here is
Gozan’s poem as a sampling from the requiem’s haiku:
Hana to mishi
Yuki wa kinouzo
Moto no mizu.
The snow of yesterday
that fell like cherry blossoms
is water once again.
The requiem includes use of shakuhachi, taiko drums, harp (especially
beautiful in "In Paradisum," which closes the requiem), and, as Jenkins
says in the liner notes, "even a hip-hop rhythm in the Dies Irae!" Make
no mistake, however; this is a classical recording, very much in the Western
tradition rather than sounding Japanese (for example, Jenkins’s "Dies
Irae" has been favorably compared with the famous "O Fortuna" from Carl
Orff's Carmina Burana). The fine performance by the West Kazakhstan
Philharmonic Orchestra, under the direction of Marat Bisengaliev, marks
the first recording of any Kazakhstan orchestra on a Western label. Also
included on the disc is In These Stones Horizons Sing, a pleasing 16-minute
composition that dramatizes the poetry of four contemporary Welsh
Karl Jenkins initially made his musical mark through jazz and the 1970s
progressive-rock and jazz-fusion band Soft Machine. He is best known,
however, as a prolific and widely decorated classical composer and musician.
In 2005 he was awarded the Order of the British Empire by Queen
Elizabeth II for his services to British music.
For any haiku poet who is also a fan of current classical music, Karl Jenkins’s
noble, varied, and fulfilling Requiem comes highly recommended.