An application of the social text theory by Alton L. Becker to the analysis of Česlovas Sasnauskas (1915) Requiem e-moll

  • Laima Budzinauskienė
  • Rasa Murauskaitė
Keywords: Alton L. Becker, social text theory, requiem, Česlovas Sasnauskas, Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis


Requiem e-moll by composer Česlovas Sasnauskas (1867–1916) is believed to be one of the first requiem written by the Lithuanian composer. It is clearly the most important example of this genre composed by the Lithuanian artist in the first half of the 20th century. However, it is not the very first cycle of the Mass for the dead written by Č. Sasnauskas: it is also possible to discuss an earlier and simpler Missa Requiem where the composer undoubtedly concentrated on the relationship between the text and music as well as pure expression of liturgical style. The exact date of this composition is not known but depending on the musical style and mentions in the press it may be asserted that this cycle was composed in 1899. Also, a soprano part of another Requiem cycle (date unknown) has survived. Its musical material is very similar to the Requiem e-moll. That lets us think that it was one of the first versions of the Requiem e-moll. In this publication, an analysis of Requiem e-moll by Č. Sasnauskas is based on the social text theory by Alton L. Becker. It suggests to analyze any kind of the artistic text with reference to its internal relations, relations with other texts of the same genre or culture and artists’ intentions as well as non-artistic events (reference relation). Such an analysis of musical and non-musical meanings leads to the conclusion that this theory reveals the polysemantic nature of the composition without any reference to the artistic value of it. Maintaining the historic nature of the analysis, Requiem e-moll by Č. Sasnauskas was analyzed depending on the aspects of the dispersion of the melodic motives in the cycle; similarities with the earlier requiem compositions by Sasnauskas himself as well as other composers’ works that were found in the personal library of the Lithuanian composer; artist’s personal relation with his nationality and artistic friendship with Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875–1911). Analysis of the melodic motives was chosen because of the noticed connections among the melodic intonations in different parts of the cycle. Five main melodic (or melodic-rhythmic) motives joining different parts of the cycle were picked out; dispersion of these motives in the cycle parts are reflected in the original scheme. This analysis reveals that the composer sought for the coherence of different cycle parts. It was also noticed that most of new material is used in the most developed Sequentia part. There is a possibility that it was composed later than others because of its different musical language as well as being absent in the extremely similar cycle of the earlier Requiem (soprano part). Discussing the relation of Requiem e-moll with the earlier Mass for the dead cycles written by Sasnauskas it was noticed that Missa Requiem is not very similar to the later cycle, but there may be found some sameness in the tendencies of musical thinking. Whereas Requiem musical material was directly used in the Requiem e-moll. That is why we could speak about a strong relation between these two cycles. On the other hand, discussing requiem cycles of other composers found in Sasnauskas’ library, we may talk only about sporadic melodic or rhythmic similarities that are inherent to the style of requiem in general. The final version of Requiem e-moll by Č. Sasnauskas was premiered in Saint Petersburg in 1915 during the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Čiurlionis’ birth. These two composers were close friends, that is why this event was as a symbolic conclusion of their artistic friendship. In this article their connection is revealed in the context of Sasnauskas’ work with the Requiem e-moll and the expression of requiem ideas in Čiurlionis’ creative work.