98. Sinfonia da Requiem (1988), Op. 2

David Whitwell, Symphony No. 2

i. Requiem aeternam (Rest eternal)
ii. Tuba mirum (The trumpet shall sound)
iii. Dies Irae (Dreaded Day, Day of Ire)
iv. Lacrymosa (Mournful day)
v. Libera me (Deliver me from everlasting death)

In 1968 my wife and I moved to Vienna in order for me to study conducting at the famous Akademie of Musik. We both felt that if we were going to live in Vienna we wanted to live in Vienna, right in the middle and not out in the 25th district. We were fortunate to find a small apartment on Kartnerstrasse just one block and a half from the great cathedral, Stefansdom, which is the heart of the city.

From the first moment I stepped into this apartment I had a strong feeling of the presence of Mozart. Of course, I immediately attributed this to the basic excitement of being, on my first trip to Europe, in the city of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler. But this feeling of the presence of Mozart in this apartment continued for the entire year. Of course when my mind was otherwise involved in perhaps conversing with my wife, or studying scores, etc., the “Mozart Effect” was not apparent. But in moments of reflection the feeling returned. It was always there.

Twenty years later, in 1988, I read a new small book by Robbins Landon called Mozart’s Last Year. In this book he had reproduced a map of central Vienna dating from about the time of Mozart’s death. In these old European cities the basic blocks of building remain the same but the street names tend to change over the centuries. It was, therefore, only when I saw this older map that I realized that my apartment was in the same building and on the same floor as the apartment in which Mozart died! The reader will understand the utter sense of shock as I thought back on those feelings of 1968. Indeed for some weeks I had the circumstances of the death of Mozart constantly on my mind.

To free myself from this obsession I decided, not so much as a kind of exorcism, but rather in Mozart’s honor, to write a Requiem for Mozart, who did not have one performed when he died. Fortunately, I was on sabbatical the Spring of 1988 and could devote myself completely to the composition of this my second symphony, the Sinfonia da Requiem.

There are a number of curious things about this work, beginning with the fact that the act of composition was almost without a sense of labor. Indeed some movements came to me faster than I could write them down. As an inexperienced composer I found this rather startling, but I attribute it to the fact that my feelings were so unusually focused.

The performance of this Sinfonia da Requiem has always had a strong impact on the audience, especially in concerts throughout Europe. This Sinfonia has been performed at the Harrogate International Music Festival in England, with live radio broadcasts in Switzerland, The Netherlands, on Italian National TV, together with a live studio recording on the Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Koln. A performance I conduced with the Civica Orchestsra di Fiati, Milano, in 2017, produced a response by an official of this civic band, Barbara Romlano, “It was the best concert I have heard in my entire life!” I attribute this wide interest to the music drawing upon the listeners’ own love of Mozart and thoughts of his early death. Not only have performances been followed by unusually strong comments by the listeners, but indeed, on more than one occasion I have turned to face the audience at the end of a performance of this work in Europe to find numerous audience members crying.

With regard to these strong audience reactions there have been two quite extraordinary accounts of events which followed performances which I feel I must share with the reader.

Because of the success with audiences of this Sinfonia I often included it when guest conducting and on tours. On one of the first European concerts, as part of a tour in 1989, this work was performed in a lovely Baroque Period church in Switzerland. To accommodate this concert the church officials had moved the usual furniture around the altar in front, making a space for my large ensemble. What remained, directly behind the placement of the ensemble, was a very large, perhaps 30 feet high, Baroque painting of the Day of Judgment, depicting Jesus in the center with his arms spread out and with numerous bodies on his right seen ascending up toward Heaven and with numerous other bodies on his left descending toward Hell.

When the concert and applause had ended, about thirty audience members, who had been seated in various locations in the hall and who were not known to each other, ran up to me, still on the podium, and in the most excited frame of mind swore to me that during the third movement, the ”Dies Irae,” which is associated with the Day of Judgment, they saw the figures in the painting actually moving! They wanted an explanation from me, but I was too stunned to comment.

The following night on this tour we performed in Bresca, Italy, in an open gallery of a Cloister which was used for summer concerts as there was no air conditioning inside the civic building. During the performance of the ”Dies Irae” in this concert, under a clear blue sky, there suddenly occurred a tremendous sound of a single clap of thunder. This startled the audience, and the reader can see this event was mentioned in the review of the civic newspaper, Brescia Oggi (Italy), 15 July 1989, although he mentions the wrong movement, which the reader can find in the first of the following reviews.

Following these two extraordinary events happening in the performance of this movement, I was beginning to wonder if this movement were safe to perform in public. But there were no immediate such occurrences in following performances until several years later when I was guest conducting a young person wind ensemble in Taiwan in their magnificent civic concert hall in Taipei. This young group of teenagers had little experience in public performance and they seemed to me to be especially nervous to be performing in the locally famous professional hall. So, just in an attempt to calm them down with a bit of humor I recounted to them the two above mentioned stories and, with a big smile, warned the that if anything unusual happened during the ”Dies Irae” to just keep playing. Well, during the performance of this movement there was an earthquake!

Yet another unusual event following a performance of the Sinfonia da Requiem occurred some years later when I was invited to guest conduct this Requiem as part of a conducting clinic for local military conductors in Korea. This private concert was performed by the Korean National Navy Band, who, upon my arrival, were all standing outside in formation in front of their hall to welcome me. At this time I believe there were few instances of English speaking visitors on this naval base and so as one would expect there was some difficulty in translations, etc. After the performance and the clinic portion were finished I was taken to a separate room for a private discussion with all the local military conductors. I expected, as in such occasions to make amplifying comments to their questions about conducting, but to my surprise the entire hour was spent questioning me about the source of the Sinfonia music. They refused to believe I had composed this work, believing I had found an original symphony by Mozart and that I was trying to take credit for being the composer. Time and time again, quickly becoming rather angry, they kept questioning me and they refused my explanation. I left without convincing a one of them that I was actually the composer!

Reviews of Symphony Nr. 2

Surely one of the best things of the evening was the sound of this work, characterized by an impressive power in its most emphatic moments. The American ensemble took advantage of the open gallery of the Cloister, to create pleasant stereophonic effects by locating the trumpets and trombones on the sides of the flight of steps that hosted spectators. The saxophone soloist [Bill Wilson] in the Lacrymosa created a very beautiful and successful effect, while in the Libera me (with the sky imperturbably perturbed) a tranquil melody of conciliation and thanksgiving was lifted up to the divinity.

Brescia Oggi (Italy), July 15, 1989

In the Sinfonia da Requiem, composed in memory of the last days of the great composer, Mozart, allowed the composer, David Whitwell, to place himself into the very moving last days of Mozart, who, as is well-known, composed a Requiem on his deathbed which, however with superhuman effort, he was not able to finish. Whitwell rendered the tragic and hectic of those last December days of almost 200 years ago in a grandiose manner. In the next to last movement, the “Lacramosa,” the public experienced a wealth of tone and rhythm after an earlier movement, the “Dies Irae,” the trumpets, horns, and trombones captured a defiant reaction against the deadly disease. In the final movement, the “Libra me,” a measured movement, besides a monumental finale the heartache of the composer over the all too early death of the talented Mozart was expressed. The audience experienced the real ability of this orchestra where it was able to produce the finest nuances of tone at the softest dynamic levels.

Markgrafler Tagblatt (Germany), July 19, 1989

The Requiem was then performed a full orchestra strength, a Mass which was composed by Whitwell after he had occupied himself intensively with the last years of Mozart. In addition to the four parts of the Catholic Liturgy (Introitus, Dies irae, Tuba mirum and Lacrymosa) there sounded a fifth movement, a “Libera me,” which is to be found first in Verdi. Also reminiscent of Verdi was the dramatic power of the Dies Irae movement, which captures the terror of the Last Judgment with musical means.

Badische Zeitung (Germany), July 19, 1989

The Sinfonia_da_Requiem, the second piece of the evening, was composed by the conductor of the ensemble, David Whitwell, in honor of and to commemorate Mozart. The five movements are constructed in the formal manner of the Requiem Mass, with the first movement featuring the brass. The “Tuba Mirum” can be compared to a funeral march which received an almost dramatic character through punctuation and tonal repetition.

Rhythmically, the “Dies Irae” was fascinating by the colorful use of lively timpani. The “Libra me” impressed with its full, round brass sound

Sudkurier (Germany), July 18, 1989, appearing also in Schwabische-Zeitung (Germany), July 18, 1989

The Sinfonia da Requiem was the most expressive and important composition on this concert and a substantial composition. We admired both the transparent instrumentation, with much solo playing, as well as the use of the full range of the wind orchestra and found the work very challenging musically.

Gemeindeblatt (Bozen, Italy), May 16, 1991

Just a brief note to tell you how much I enjoyed your Sinfonia da Requiem. It is absolutely the best writing for winds that I’ve heard in 20 years! Bravo!

Prof. Jerry D. Luedders, Oct. 24, 1988
California State University, Northridge
Chair, Music Department

I listened to it in my office yesterday, and again last night at home. I happen to be a sucker for Romanticism, so I enjoyed it very much. I don’t think you need apologize for the harmonic language. There is so much garbage written in contemporary language that good music using any language is welcome. Congratulations.

Dr. William Toutant, Nov. 9, 1988
California State University, Northridge
Dean of Fine Arts

Thank you for the tape of your Opus Two, Sinfonia da Requiem – which is indeed a very fine work. I have listened to the tape several times and am convinced you have a real talent for composition. I do hope some publisher will publish it if you are so inclined. It can be a most worthy addition to the band’s repertoire. Congratulations!

William D. Revelli, Nov. 18, 1988
Ann Arbor, MI

Thank you for your great composition. I had a deep impression in hearing the Sinfonia da Requiem.

Wolfgang Suppan, Nov. 22, 1988
Graz, Austria, Hochschule fur Musik

I am amazed, impressed and proud of you.

Mark Hindsley, Nov. 27, 1988
Urbana, IL

This is a very moving concept, and I thought your players performed with love and obvious respect and affection for you.

Tim Reynish, Dec. 1, 1988
Manchester, England
Royal Northern College of Music
David Whitwell, Symphony No. 2

Score and parts are available from Maxime’s Music.

Congratulations. Your Requiem is truly beautiful. Such mastery for a second composition – the counterpoint, the gorgeous part-writing, the clean, clear forms, the wonderful colors and voicings and, of course, the deep understanding of the instruments – a most moving and genuine experience. It reveals your many years of study and devotion to your craft. All music, every minute. Beautiful. Have your started Op. 3 yet?

Ted Hegvik, Dec. 11, 1988
Philadelphia Orchestra
West Chester, PA

My heartiest congratulations to you for such a fine work. It has pathos – emotion and passion – musicality and heart – qualities almost unheard of in today’s works for wind instruments. I was moved by the music and look forward to the day when I can study the score.

I felt the first movement set the scene very well; the second prepared me for the real excitement of the third (probably my favorite); the fourth is a necessary calm; and the final movement pulls it together for a very satisfying close.

Serious band conductors will be in your debt for this composition. It adds a much needed quality (for lack of a better word) to today’s repertoire.

Gilbert Mitchell, Dec. 31, 1988
Alexandria, VA
Former Conductor, US Army Band

To put it mildly I am delighted with the composition. In my opinion, it is not only a worthwhile work, but it was beautifully performed.

I hope that you have found a publisher for the number. It is worthy of publication. There is so much mediocre band music published today that this is like a breath of fresh air.

George S. Howard, Dec. 31, 1988
San Antonio, TX
Former Conductor, USAF Band

I thought you might like to hear from a performer of your work. I first performed the Sinfonia da Requiem under the direction of Mr. Ronald Johnson, on Dec. 6, 1988. My part was bass drum.

This composition evoked many emotions in me, even at the time I was actually playing it…. I felt triumph, despair, but most importantly a sense of hope, even in its sense of finality.

I was on the vergo of tears during the moment between the last chord and before the audience began applauding.

Thank you for giving me a chance to be a part of such a wonderful, beautiful expression of yourself.

Kate Wilson, April 3, 1989
Cedar Falls, IA
Student, University of Northern Iowa

Enclosed is a program of the first complete performance of your Sinfonia da Requiem in Europe. I played three of the movements already in February for a conductor’s clinic, where it was enthusiastically received. We used four of the movements for a couple of concerts at the 17th Harrogate International Music Festival in England. The work got a lot of very positive comments after the performance here in Stuttgart and the students really enjoy playing it.

Leon Bly, April 18, 1989
Stuttgart, Germany
Stuttgart School of Music

I have your Sinfonia da Requiem. I have waited so long for the music and now that I have it I am filled with joy. I thank you for it.

In the Spring I will perform this work at the Pfarrkirche in Bozen and in the Cathedral in Brixen, which will be a live broadcast on the Italian National Television.

Gottfried Veit, Sept. 3, 1990
Bozen, Italy

During the past month I have listened to many tapes and reviewed many scores in my search for the repertoire I wish to program with the National Music Clinic Conference in Philadelphia next February, 1991.

During my search for the band’s repertory, I have listened and listened to the tape you kindly sent me of your Requiem Symphony. This is truly “my kind” of music and I truly love it.

Hence, I write you to ask if you can provide me with parts and score. I am anxious to program it and believe it would be received with great enthusiasm by the audience.

William D. Revelli, Sept. 7, 1990
Ann Arbor, MI

I had the opportunity to hear this work daily while on tour with the Wind Ensemble in Europe. The composition was met with unbridled enthusiasm by every audience and I grew to appreciate the work more and more with each performance. This reaction is not always the case with new compositions.

Jerry D. Luedders, March 1, 1991
Northridge, CA
Chair, Music Department

Thank you for all you did for us at the CBDNA Conference. In special congratulations to your deep feeling composition in honor of Mozart. We get fine inspirations through this work.

Wolfgang Suppen, March 4, 1991
Graz, Austria
Hochschule fur Musik

The performance of your Sinfonia da Requiem was the greatest success and will long be remembered by the players and the large audience.

Gottfried Veit, May 20, 1991
Bozen, Italy

Maestro Fulvio Creaux, Conductor of the Band of the Guardia di Finanza of Rome will soon conduct your Requiem Symphony for Mozart and he will send you a tape of it. Before the end of 1991 also in Brescia in our Teatro Grande, the Sinfonia will be played. They are already studying it.

Giovanni Ligasacchi, July 4, 1991
Brescia, Italy

By separate post I have sent you a cassette tape with the last concert of the Gazzaniga Town Band which performed your Symphony in Memory of Mozart, which I enjoy very much.

Marino Anesa, August 3, 1991
Soronno, Italy

We all love your “Sinfonia de Requiem” and look very much forward to the performance in two weeks!

Felix Hauswirth, Nov. 17, 1991
Cham, Switzerland