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Notes on Requiem


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Jean-Baptiste Lully

Lully wrote his Dies irae for the funeral of Louis XIV's wife, Queen Marie-Therese, who died on 30th July, 1683.  The Dies irae was sung after the mass, in the great basilica of Saint Denis, and just before the De Profundis.  The two works are this historically indissociable.  The orchestras of the Chapel and Bedchamber joined the monks of the abbey for the occasion.

The Dies irae is written as a single movement in the principal key of G minor.  Although the text is full of apocalyptic images, Lully approaches it in a mood of serenity; is emphasis is on death as deliverance rather than death as punishment.  One of the best examples of this conception comes in the Confutatis:  the image of flames consuming the wicked (confutatis maledictis, flammis acribus), depicted in agitated, homophonic writing for the two choirs, last a mere five bars, while the last line of the verse, voca me cum benedicits, is developed over 44 bars illustrating the plenitude of the soul going to join the elect.  Of course contrasts abound, like the massive power of the Rex tremendae majestatis emphasized by the calm of the two short recitatives (for haute-contre and bass) which bracket it.  Another notable feature is the distribution of the solo writing; the soprano has no recitative at all and the lion's share, including the opening verse based on Gregorian chant, is given to the bass, an unusual occurrence because when composers wished to exploit the lower registry they generally preferred to use the baritone voice.

De Profundis (Pslam XCCIX), the sixth of the seven penitential psalms, has an important place in the liturgy for the dead.  The psalmist, aware of his sin, expects forgiveness only through the grace of God.  The piece is in the same key as the Dies irae (G minor) and has the same form.  The final verse of the psalm is following by a symphonic or orchestral passage leading to the Introit Requiem aeternam, whose mainly contrapuntal writing marvellously suggests the peace and light of eternal rest.  This apotheosis confirms the confidence that ought to be placed in divine forgiveness and is the central message of the De profundis.

by Edmond Lemaitre (c) CMBV

Extract from the CD booklet of "Lully - Grands Motets Vol. 2"

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