The final concert of this season brings together two masterpieces that have become inextricably linked, even though one was composed fifty years after the first. The title for this concert comes from the last movement of each of the Requiems. Not usually a part of the Requiem mass, this text is from the Order of Burial: In paradisum deducant angeli (May angels lead you to paradise). Apart from the above text, both the Fauré and Duruflé Requiems make other major alterations to the usual text, most noticeably dispensing with the Dies Irae section. “Gone are the dramatic depictions of the last judgment and the glimpses of hell-fire and the eternal torment awaiting those trembling sinners who are found wanting.” Both Requiems have also undergone various versions from organ or organ and small ensemble to complete orchestration. The versions on this concert will be for organ alone.
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) wrote his Requiem in D Minor, Op. 48 between 1887 and 1890. Fauré had been organist at La Madelaine in Paris for many years where he played for many funerals. He wrote, “My Requiem…has been said to express no fear of death; it has been called a lullaby of death. But that is how I feel about death: a happy deliverance, a reaching for eternal happiness, rather than a mournful passing…Perhaps I have instinctively sought to escape from what is thought right and proper, after all the years of accompanying burial services on the organ! I know it all by heart. I wanted to do something different.” His Requiem focuses on eternal rest and consolation. Although his parents had both died around the time he was composing his Requiem, he declared, “My Requiem wasn’t written for anything—for pleasure, if I may call it that!” He also wrote of it that “it is as gentle as I am myself.” Fauré saw death as “a happy deliverance, an aspiration towards happiness in the hereafter, rather than as a painful transition.”
The earliest music composed for the Requiem is the Libera me, which Fauré wrote in 1877 as an independent work. Fauré called his first version of the work un petit Requiem as it initially had only five movements.
The musicologist Emile Vuillermoz defined Fauré’s Requiem in the following terms: “The important philosophical value of this wonderful farewell to life in its sensitivity and modesty. Fauré knew how to confront death in adopting the necessary detached attitude for assigning to our last breath the modest place it should occupy in the inexorable harmony of the universe.” There is no sign of affected grandness or fear in this Requiem.
The work as we know it today has seven sections:
- Introit and Kyrie
- Pie Jesu
- Agnus Dei
- Libera me
- In Paradisum
Movement 4 is for solo soprano (Aliah Nelson) and movements 2 and 6 include solos for baritone voice (Matt Pauls). Janet Wilson will preside at the organ.
Fauré seemed surprised with the popularity of his Requiem. In 1900, aged 55, he wrote “My Requiem is being played in Brussels, and in Nancy, and in Marseilles, and at the Conservatoire in Paris! You’ll see, I shall become a well-known musician.” His masterpiece was performed at his own funeral in his beloved La Madelaine. Even though a church musician for many years, Fauré was very much a doubter, described by his own son as “a sceptic.” Certainly the serenity and calm of this music suggests that Fauré was not afraid of death and emphasized the “restful and fear-free nature” of it.
Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986) wrote his Requiem, Op. 9 in 1947, although it was not published until a year later. The work had been commissioned earlier under the collaborationist Vichy regime, but Duruflé was still working on it when the regime collapsed. It was at that time that the composer dedicated his Requiem to his father.
Like Fauré, Duruflé made his living primarily as an organist and teacher. Known mostly for his organ compositions, it is the Requiem that garnered him a reputation outside of France. Duruflé was the organist for over fifty years at the church of St. Etienne-du-Mont in Paris. He also taught at the Conservatory from 1943 until 1969. He was also organist for the orchestra associated with the Conservatory and was the soloist for the premiere of Poulenc’s Organ Concerto.
At the same time Duruflé was working on the Requiem, he was also working on a suite for organ solo that was based on the Gregorian chants of the Mass for the Dead. Taking this, he expanded these themes into his Requiem. “Hence, it is natural that many of the Requiem’s melodies are directly based on these ancient plainsongs and their associated modal scales. They appear throughout, complete or fragmentary, in vocal parts and accompaniments, at the original pitch or transposed.” (Taken from the program notes of the Robert Shaw CD.)
Clarifying his compositional process, Duruflé said, “At times the text is paramount, and therefore the [instrumentation] intervenes only to sustain or comment. At other times an original musical fabric inspired by the text takes over completely…In general, I have attempted to penetrate the essence of Gregorian style and have tried to reconcile, as far as possible, the very flexible Gregorian rhythms as established by the Benedictines of Solesmes with the exigencies of modern notation.”
The work is divided into nine sections:
- Introit (Requiem Aeternam)
- Sanctus and Benedictus
- Pie Jesu
- Agnus Dei
- Communion (Lux aeterna)
- Libera me
- In Paradisum
It was Duruflé’s intent that the solo portions of his Requiem be sung by the full section of the choir. There are various recordings with various combinations. We will have the alto section sing movement 5, but have the baritone sections (movements 3 and 8) sung by a soloist (Matt Pauls). Janet Wilson will again be at the organ.
Although this Requiem is so reminiscent of Fauré’s, Duruflé was not averse to writing loud music when he deemed it necessary, as for instance in the “Hosannas” in movement 4. These moments become even more effective because he uses them so sparingly. Aside from his four motets on Gregorian themes, this is Duruflé’s best known work.
These Requiems are two of my favourite choral works and to me they work so well together, as complements of each other. Having sung them before, I now count it a great reward to be able to conduct them as the concluding concert of our 2017-2018 Worth a Repeat season.