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Lacrimosa is a setting of the traditional Lacrimosa text from the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass.  It is a standalone composition and is not part of a mass.  It is scored for mezzo-soprano and 14-member chamber orchestra.  In a departure from most pieces like this, the soprano is treated more like an orchestral musician than a soloist, contributing color in the form of the vocal timbre and also the words that are sung.  Stravinsky's music heavily influenced this work, and some sections sound very much like his music.  The piece was composed in about a month from February to March 2009.


The piece is vaguely programmatic so as to match the text.  It is divided into three sections of approximately equal length: the "man" section, the "judgment" section, and the "heaven" section.  Each section starts with a re-statement of the Lacrimosa theme, each in a different mood but with the same thematic content.  The text conjured up for me a scene on Judgment Day where men rise from ashes (first section) to be judged (second section) and, hopefully, enter heaven (the third section).

The piece uses a nine-note scale, divided into three symmetrical parts: [F, G, Ab], [A, B, C], [Db, Eb, E].  In other words, there are no occurrences of F#, Bb, or D in the piece anywhere.  The scale was chosen so that (a) it was tri-symmetrical, (b) I could form chords that were major and minor in the same key (esp. F major and F minor), and (c) I could form both diminished and perfect fifths.

Various aspects of the piece are symbolic.  For example, the diminished fifth represents man, and the perfect fifth represents God.  And since the nine-note scale is tri-symmetrical, I can represent the Trinity by three equally spaced perfect fifths in the scale (C-F, E-B, Ab-Eb), which is particularly noticeable in the second section.  Combined with the perfect fifth representing God, the minor third represents God's wrath, and the major third represents God's mercy and/or grace, thus forming a minor or major triad that is easily interpreted as disfavorable or favorable by the listener.  I had originally planned to include various other symbolic aspects, such as all vocal syllables in a given passage being of the same length, representing the fact that God does not show favoritism, but I ended up not using this idea.  Still, you can see some vestiges of this in the piece.  There are other specific programmatic references

The thematic material is mostly derived from the motif "B B B B (AB) (BDb) B", where the standalone Bs are quarter notes and the notes in the parentheses are slurred eighth notes.  This is repeated in all three sections in various places.  The key part of that motif is the two sets of slurred notes.  The inverse of that is the basis of the persistent "Lacrimosa" theme, and those four notes can be heard in several places (sometimes minor seconds instead of major seconds) throughout.  The only real departure from that is in the last section, whose major theme is the reverse of the first part of the famous Dies Irae Gregorian chant -- thus representing the reversal of God's wrath.


The C-F-B-E tonality of the first section effectively captures the sound that I was aiming for.  The fugato in the second section, although too short, is of decent quality; and I do like the faux Baroque atmosphere (representative of man's posturing and attempts at self-righteousness) that it conjures up.  And I do like the "Reus!" shouted by the soprano, echoed immediately by the timpani.


This piece contains some pretty serious technical mistakes.  For example, one of the flute harmonics I wrote is just the normal fingering for that note on the flute.  The bottom F pedal note on the trombone is not playable without an F attachment.  The trumpet must play a written Eb (concert Db), which is out of the typical orchestral range, although playable by very strong players, and jazz trumpeters.  I should have just scored it for a trumpet in C instead of a trumpet in Bb.  The vocalist (who is a lyric mezzo-soprano, mind you!) has to sing a top G at a mp dynamic level at one point.  And the poor violist's and cellist's fingers will be aching severely after the non-stop glissandos for 12 measures on end.

Furthermore, the piece is poorly orchestrated except for a couple of decent bits in the first section.  Since I was pressed for time, the second section is less elaborate or cohesive than the first section.  It does not build up sufficiently to warrant the huge climax at the junction between the second and third sections; and the climax dies out too soon.  The fugue in the second section took a fair bit of work, so I had to compose the third section very quickly.  As a result, the third section is homogenous and frankly boring, and fails to achieve its purpose.  The sudden modulation to F major at the end, which is supposed to feel like a kind of homecoming, just feels sudden, and the piece ends in a kind of abrupt way thereafter.

Score and Audio

See the Attachments section below for the score and audio files for this work.


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Composition Facts

Date Composed:
March 2009

13 minutes


mezzo-soprano, flute, oboe/english horn, clarinet in Bb/bass clarinet, bassoon, French horn, trumpet, trombone, two percussionists, harp, violin, viola, cello, bass

Very Difficult
Eric Galluzzo,
Feb 8, 2010, 8:28 PM
Eric Galluzzo,
Feb 8, 2010, 8:25 PM