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James T. Bingham
1945 -
J.T. Bingham
James T. Bingham (1945), an Australian conductor and composer.
Composed in:1999
Musical form:mass
Text/libretto:Latin mass, English Scripture texts, Book of Common Prayer and poetry of Augustine of Hippo
In memory of:Dorothy Lynette Bingham Walsh, his sister, one of the basses in his choir, Paul Poyser and the composer's father
Bingham's Requiem contains:
- Requiem aeternam
- Out of the Deep
- Pie Jesu
- Sanctus
- Agnus Dei
- Laudate Dominum
- I heard a voice
- Lux aeternam
The events surrounding the composition of Dr. James T. Bingham's Requiem play a vital role in the understanding and appreciation of this large-scale work. Following a successful performance of John Rutter's Requiem, members of the Spencerville SDA Sanctuary Choir approached the conductor and composer about a subsequent performance of a similar work. Realizing that John Rutter's composition is unique in the repertoire of Requiems, Bingham began work on his own in May of 1998. In a practice begun by Fauré and Brahms, Bingham carefully selected texts in place of much of the standard Missa pro defunctis sequence. Following the precedent set by Walford Davies A Short Requiem composed in 1915, Bingham also combined parts of the Latin mass liturgy with selected texts in English taken from Scripture and the Burial Service, 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Bingham also drew text from the poetry of Augustine of Hippo.
The qualities that endeared the Spencerville SDA Sanctuary Choir to Rutter's Requiem were its gentle lyricism, memorable tunes, and simple beauty. Bingham set the same goals for himself while seeking to write a work that would present a challenge to his choir. In sharp contrast to the doom and drama of Verdi's epic work, Bingham sought to write a work that was secure in its belief of a heaven--a life beyond what we face on this earth. To that end, he chose to use just the portion of the "Dies irae" that implores God to grant the dead peace. The portion not used speaks in dramatic terms of the Last Judgment, which inspired terrifying, apocalyptic music in the Requiems of Berlioz and others. Bingham's Requiem instead dwells on the tenderness, hope and eternal life that is offered by the plan of salvation.
Bingham's approach is directly linked to his own view of death as shaped by his belief system and life experiences. When he began work on his Requiem, 10 years had passed since a summer that, for him, embodied both ends of the vicissitudes of life. On Mother's day in 1988, Dorothy Lynette Bingham Walsh, the composer's sister died, and he flew to Australia for her funeral. Just one month later, he was scheduled to be in Australia to conduct an orchestra and choir tour and so he missed seeing his sister alive by just a month. Returning to the United States after the funeral, Dr. Bingham made a successful Carnegie Hall conducting debut and departed with his orchestra and choir on a summer tour of Hawaii and Australia. While in Hawaii, one of the basses in his choir, Paul Poyser, tragically drowned in a scuba diving accident. Spirits were low and Dr. Bingham considered canceling the tour, however the young man's parents urged that the tour should continue. Just a day later, Dr. Bingham received a call from his mother in Australia who told him that his father Joseph Thomas Bingham was gravely ill of asbestosis at the age of 62. The tour continued to Australia and after arriving there, the choir and orchestra traveled to Canberra, the capital city. To his complete astonishment, there stood Dr. Bingham's father waiting in the cold for the tour bus. He traveled some with the tour and after a wonderful two weeks spent together with his father, Dr. Bingham returned to the United States with his choir and orchestra. Ten days later he received word that his father had passed away and so, for the third time that summer, he boarded a plane for Australia to attend the funeral.
The events of that summer were prominent in Bingham's mind as he composed his Requiem, and the completed work is dedicated to the memory of all three. His statement of belief gives further insight into the work. "I have absolute faith and hope that eternal life is there for all of us. There are many emotions associated with death; anger, self-pity, and I think those are justified at times. We should be angry that we are in this state. Angry, not at God, but angry that we still are here. Yet on the other hand, I have much more of a feeling of affinity with those composers who look upon death as a transition; a time of rest.
This Requiem is a summation of my feelings about death. There is a certain element of mysticism in the way I have written it: mystical in the sense that we do not quite know exactly what to expect in death, but we have faith to believe that eternal life is going to be beautiful and wonderful. I think that comes through in the music."
Completed in a little less than a year, Bingham's Requiem was premiered, under the direction of the composer, on March 27, 1999 at the Spencerville Seventh-day Adventist Church in Maryland by soprano soloist, Kimberly Porter, baritone soloist, Byron Jones, the Spencerville Sanctuary Choir, the Columbia Collegiate Chorale of Columbia Union College, and a small instrument ensemble with organ.
Spanning eight movements, the original orchestration is for organ and eight instruments. The work has also been orchestrated for full orchestra by the composer. With the organ as the foundation, the solo writing for flute, oboe, English horn, cello, timpani, bass drum, triangle, and harp add color and balance. While Bingham calls this instrumentation "practical," his orchestration brings out the best of each instrument's capabilities with a most successful result.
The beginning of the first movement, "Requiem aeternam", is based on Gregoraian chant from the Mass for the Dead. The sparseness of the opening is abandoned for four part harmony to the words "et lux perpetua luceat eis" (and may perpetual light shine on them) before a dramatic section of praise to God. After an instrumental plainsong fragment, the music becomes a gentle entreaty to 'Kyrie eleison' ('Lord, have mercy'), one of the Requiem's most tuneful and memorable melodies. Plainsong returns again before a benediction coda reminiscent of the elegiac end to the second movement of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto.
The second movement of Bingham's Requiem is a setting of the text of Psalm 130 in English. Written for baritone solo with chorus, the writing for solo instruments, especially the English horn, cello and timpani, is particularly effective. To place greater emphasis on the words, much of this movement's choral writing is either in unison or two parts. The one exception is the movement's climax, "In His Word is my trust." The words "with Him is plenteous redemption," are also highlighted with the baritone solo ending the Psalm recitative-like before the chorus chants the opening words, "Out of the deep..." to close the movement.
The "Pie Jesu" is beautiful in its simplicity while containing some of the most chromatic writing in the Requiem. Written in E flat major, Bingham's harmonic language establishes the C flat minor chord (or b minor chord; he spells it both ways) with dominant function. The subtle tension created by the constant battle of half note relationships produces very satisfying cadential resolutions. A magical moment occurs when the soprano soloist ascends to a floated high B flat, portamentos down an octave, while the chorus ascends on a C flat minor harmony to a most gratifying E flat major resolution. The same progression in the final measures seems now to take on subdominant-tonic implications over an E flat pedal--effectively a chromatic "Amen."
In the "Sanctus", Bingham utilizes compositional techniques begun in the Renaissance period but still popular today. The sopranos and tenors begin in canon, and then the basses and altos do the same. Breaking out of canon, all four voices sing new material to "Dominus Deus Sabaoth" (Lord, God of Hosts). The basses and altos then begin a new theme (suggestive of American folk song) in unison before again breaking into canon. Then all four voices combine, with the new theme sung in canon by the tenors and sopranos while the basses and altos sing material based on the opening theme. The "Benedictus" section that follows uses two themes, the first is sung in thirds by the sopranos and altos. This is followed by a separate theme sung by the tenors and basses. These two subjects are then sung simultaneously. The movement ends in glory and praise to "Hosanna in excelsis".
Movement number five is a setting of the "Agnus Dei". This movement is remarkable on many levels. First, in addition to the Latin from Missa pro defunctis, it combines texts from Isaiah, Job, the Burial Service, 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and poetry by Augustine of Hippo. This variety of text material is set with an equally wide variety of music ranging from the melody-less, rhythmically driven opening to the sublime a cappella chorale which closes the movement. To further distinguish this movement are the many emotions it deals with associated with death: namely anger, despair, self-pity, and finally, acceptance. The "Agnus Dei" ends with a beautiful chorale reflecting comfort that comes from hope, faith, and assurance of eternal life.
The "Laudate Dominum" is a praise to the Lord from Psalm 117 and the Lesser Doxology, both in Latin. Light and tuneful, the soprano solo introduces the theme of the movement. The chorus then states the theme in four-part and six-part writing before being joined by the soprano solo who then sings a flowing descant above the theme sung by the chorus. The movement builds in speed and intensity and then slows for a gentle "Amen" to close the movement.
Revelation 14:13 reads: "I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, for they rest from their labors: even so saith the spirit." The seventh movement is based on this text and on an earlier motet. The text reflects beautifully the composer's own feelings about death and features both soloists with chorus. Beginning with baritone solo singing a mysterious, haunting line, the chorus enters on the word "Blessed" to perhaps the most transcendent writing in the Requiem. It is hard to imagine more appropriate settings of the words "die," "rest," and "labors." Movement seven segues directly into the final movement. The "Lux aeterna" begins with the sopranos singing a line reminiscent of the "Pie Jesu". The melodious "Kyrie" theme returns briefly, and the Requiem closes in tranquillity, hope, and faith in a heavenly afterlife.
Author:Dr. Daniel Lau