My shoah requiem is the result of a number of visits to sacred holocaust memorial sites in Europe (Theressienstadt (Terezin, Czech Republic) and Auschwitz (Oswiecim, Poland)) as well as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. and the Sydney Jewish Museum in Sydney, Australia. Such was the overwhelming power of each and every one of these visitations that I decided to memorialize the lives of the millions of innocents in a lengthy work on the holocaust. Being a Catholic, I decided to cast the work in the form of a Missa Pro Defunctis and set within this context several poems: some I had read at the Terezin memorial and a number of others I came to know by the noted American poet and National Book Award finalist William Heyen.
The relationship of this work to the listener is something that was never far from my mind as I set to work on the piece. It is for the listener, the audience, the public known and unknown as well as for the innocent victims for whom I have created this work. This is because as a composer it is all that I was able to do in response to this most unimaginable part of our human history. In creating the textual basis for the work the counterpoint between the original poems and Latin mass is something I deliberately used to create a heightened emotion: I wanted to ensure that the emotional power of the work was both fitting and appropriate to the texts as well as offering the listener an emotional pathway through this tragic memorial. Of especial interest, I believe, is the final movement break down, which sets Heyen’s beautiful searing words to a slow, almost timelessly undulating music of unresolved summation. Perhaps, as Heyen himself put it to me, this is the only utterance to have on the subject ultimately: where words, all music and meaning simply break down into the cosmos.
The relationship between this work and the listener is one that is based on emotion, catharsis, love and humanity. It is a work in which I take the listener on a journey through the most intimate moments of our dark human history and lead them to a place of memorialized reverence for the millions of innocents, such that we never forget this.
Through such a journey the work reaches into the hearts and minds of the audience with the deep immediacy and emotion only music can provide. This immediacy coupled with the power and impact of 20th century poetry and the timeless, reflective reverence of the Latin mass for the dead acts to deeply engage the emotions and intellect of the listener and impart to them the complex message of this work: a message that it is my deep hope will never be forgotten.
This work is dedicated with love to the memory of my father, William Dudley Knehans.