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Notes on Requiem


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Maurice Durufle

Durufle was working on a suite of organ pieces based on plainsong from the Mass for the Dead when the commission for the Requiem arrived from his publishers, Durand. The sketches already on his desk proved themselves an ideal starting point, the plainsong becoming the basis of the whole work. unifying it and breathing into it the timelessness and meditative spirituality that are its essence. The model is Faure's Requiem; but this is no mere imitation, rather a reworking within the structure and mood established by the older composer, born of admiration and respect. Faure chose to break away from the examples typified by Berlioz and Verdi and their tragic, blazing images of hell-fire and heaven-storming grief. He omitted the 'Day of Judgement' texts and concentrated instead on rest and peace, even going so far as to borrow the In Paridisum from the Burial Service. Durufle sets the same texts as Faure (although the division into movements is a little different, and he retains the Benedictus) and adopts a similarly restrained approach. Both use a baritone soloist in the Domine lesu Christe and Libera me, and a treble for the Pie lesu. Durufle opens the work within the same tonality as Faure, the Offertory with the same voices. and the Pie lesu in an identical fashion. The structure of the Sanctus owes a huge debt to Faure's example. as do the Libera me and In Paradisum - yet the overall effect transcends the possible limitations of such a fine model, and gives us something very original.

The strength of Durufle's composition lies in its extraordinary fusion of disparate elements - plainsong, liturgical modality, subtle counterpoint, and the sensuous harmonies and refined scoring of Debussy, Ravel and Dukas. Durufle's often literal use of plainsong melody gives the work a great expressive and rhythmic freedom and results in a natural flow of both text and music. When seated within such colourful tonalities and underpinned with modal harmonies, the emotional impact is heightened, yet somehow the all-pervading tranquillity and spiritual optimism is maintained. The Introit flows smoothly, the plainsong rendered note for note, moving into the imitative entries of the Kyrie and its heartfelt pleas for mercy. In the Domine lesu Christe the text is dramatically declaimed by the choir until Saint Michael leads them into the heavenly light and assures them of the promise of peace. The Sanctus takes the form of an instrumental moto perpetuo against which the voices are cleverly built into a climax at 'Hosanna in excelsis', then subsiding, arch-like, to a peaceful conclusion. The Pie lesu is the physical and emotional centre of the work, a poignant and almost painfully beautiful setting of the plainsong for treble and solo cello, supported by harmonies rich in seconds and sevenths. The Agnus Dei moves us gently onward, yet without detracting from the atmosphere left by the preceding movement. Durufle weaves an expressive counter-melody around the plainsong, avoiding any dryness of expression without affecting the delicacy of the scoring. More imaginative touches are found in the Lux aeterna - the vocalizing of the lower voices beneath the trebles, and the unison chanting of 'Requiem aeternam' over changing chords. The Libera me brings lengthier development, and the dramatic climax of the whole work with the 'Dies illa'; the last 'Libera me', like Faure's, is sung in unison to the end of the movement. The final movement, In Paradisum, is an exquisite creation: the opening chords form an ethereal mist from which the trebles emerge, finally at peace. The sensuous chords of the full choir add to the spiritual tranquillity, and the last chord, an unresolved dominant ninth, evaporates into eternity.


Extract from the CD booklets of

Durfle - Requiem

(Hyperion CDA66757)

Like his mentor, Dukas, Duruflé was incredibly self-effacing, and spent considerable time re-working his compositions until they achieved what he felt was the correct level of perfection; in fact, there are only 14 published Opus numbers to his name. Duruflé's early musical training was at the cathedral in Rouen, where there was a famous school of Gregorian chant. This repertory of liturgical song had become something of a French speciality in the 19th century, and among the scholars working on the chants were a group of Benedictines at the French monastery of Solesmes, who developed a theory of chant rhythm as a free succession of notes of mostly equal value in groups of two and three.   The Solesmes school of chant restoration and performance achieved widespread acceptance in the Catholic church and even some Protestant congregations. After a thorough steeping in this tradition, Duruflé came to Paris and studied at the Conservatoire, where he confronted the tradition of Fauré, Debussy, and Ravel. When he came to write his Requiem in 1947, like the earliest composers of polyphonic Requiems, Duruflé took the Gregorian plainchant Mass for the Dead as his raw material. His declared intention was 'to reconcile, as far as possible, Gregorian rhythm…with the exigencies of modern meter.' That is, he did not transcribe literally the original melodies with their irregular alternation of twos and threes; he adjusted the rhythms subtly so that larger metric patterns emerge, but still he allowed the meter to shift frequently so that a sense of spontaneity is preserved. At the same time, he clothed the sometimes archaic-sounding melodies in sophisticated harmonies of the early modern school. Although he came from a different liturgical tradition, Duruflé used similar texts to those used by Fauré in his requiem.   The piece is in the true tendresse style, leaving out the chilling full Dies Irae and accentuating the aspect of forgiveness through the inclusion of a separate Pie Jesu and through constant repetition of the phrase 'Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine'. Duruflé published the Requiem in three versions: for organ alone; for full orchestra and for organ and string quintet with harp, trumpets and timpani ad libitum


Barry Creasy


Collegium Musicum of London

(Reproduce with permission from Mr Creasy)



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Revised: 07/01/05 20:36:36 -0400.