Requiem for My Mother by Stephen Edwards: DVD in Review
Requiem for My Mother by Stephen Edwards
Recording and DVD Documentary
The Continuo Arts Symphonic Chorus, The City of Prague Philharmonic; Candace Wicke, conductor
Orchestrations by Marcus Sjowall and Michael Pelavin
Directed by David Haugland and Stephen Edwards
Produced by Stephen Edwards, Julie Hartley, David Haugland
Stephen Edwards’ Requiem for My Mother is a beautiful and powerful work inspired by an original and poignant personal story. That is why the accompanying DVD about the inspiration for this recording is a true revelation, and one of the most moving and honest music documentaries you will see. I recommend owning both the recording and the documentary. The film is not only a lovely telling of the story behind a deeply personal work, but also the evolution of those feelings into the reality of the rehearsal and recording process. The Requiem is so emotionally overwhelming and deeply symbolic of the love a son has for the mother that inspired him, that it is difficult to put those thoughts into words. Mr. Edwards hints about that difficulty, and as a result turned to the purist and most ancient forms of Latin chant, ultimately culminating in the performance at a Rome cathedral. Rome is also where the great film composer and Mr. Edwards’ idol Ennio Morricone produced his many studio recordings, and the Continuo Arts Symphonic Chorus on this CD was recorded separately there. (The orchestra was recorded in Prague and the two recordings were mixed later).
Because of Edwards’ love for film and film music, he was able to beautifully co-direct a documentary that is as heartfelt and honest as his Requiem itself. The score is cinematic in nature, but also has solid concert music craft behind it, with interesting harmonies (the work ends on a surprising major second, perhaps symbolizing mother and son), some clever use of minimalism, and creative changing meters (3/4 to 4/4) in the Dies Irae. The high opening flute solo represents his mother, who was both a flutist and a choral director, which makes the use of chorus also appropriate for this dedication. The Dies Irae in the documentary is brilliantly and thoroughly examined with eye-popping video cuts of Leonard Bernstein conducting Mozart’s Requiem, plus short footages from Star Wars, The Exorcist and It’s a Wonderful Life as part of an insightful, well-explained effort to show how this ancient chant is employed in well-known films.
Huge kudos to the outstanding and deeply inspirational choral conductor Candace Wicke and the expert engineers and sound mixers for producing such a finely balanced, robust, rhythmically tight, and soulful recording. Ms. Wicke poured blood, sweat, and tears into the rehearsal preparation, and inspired the Continuo Arts Symphonic Chorus to rise to a level they probably didn’t know they were capable of achieving. The documentary DVD reveals many parallel stories, such as those of Ms. Wicke and her father (having recently lost a close family member), who feel as passionately about the Requiem as the composer himself. Don’t get me wrong, one can enjoy the recording of this composition on its own, but the documentary doubles that enjoyment. Having both is, in fact, important at a time when music streaming makes it all too easy to grab a sound-bite snippet here and there. The Requiem for My Mother, and the story behind it, combine to make for an inspiring time well-spent. This spiritually uplifting composition is like a great movie- you invest in it and want to learn the deeper meaning behind it. Just like a viewer of the film It’s a Wonderful Life, one is on a journey to find the reason for dying and for living on. And like the Angel in that classic film, both Stephen Edwards and his mother Rosalie have more than earned their wings.