Symphony and Choir Perform Duruflé “Requiem”

The Nashville Symphony and Chorus will perform the Durufle Requiem in Nashville on April 27 and 28 at TPAC’s Andrew Jackson Hall.

The Requiem, Op. 9 of French organist and composer Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986), was completed in 1947 and was first performed on Paris radio in November of the same year. Similar to his other 13 works, it is primarily based on Gregorian chant melodies. However, Duruflé went beyond these melodies, treating them very freely, adding countermelodies and imitative sections, and making good use of the advanced harmonies and unique orchestral effects that he had learned from studying the music of Debussy, Ravel, Dukas, and Faure. Adjectives to describe the Requiem might be “restrained,” “tranquil,” and “spiritual.” The work is for orchestra, chorus, and mezzo-soprano and baritone soloists.
Duruflé is known for a very small number of high quality compositions, among which the Requiem, is
perhaps the finest and most often performed. Born in the Normandy region of northern France, he was a choirboy at the
Rouen cathedral at age ten, where he studied piano, organ and theory. He later studied at the Paris Conservatoire.
In 1930, he was appointed to the position of organist at St.
Etienne-du-Mont, a position he held for the remainder of his life, holding it jointly with his wife after 1953. In 1943, he became Dupre’s assistant for the organ class at the Paris Conservatoire. He was also appointed professor of harmony, a position that he held until 1969. During his career, Duruflé became well known as a gifted organist. He toured extensively throughout Europe, the Soviet Union and North America. His performing career was ended by an automobile accident in May of 1975 that left him virtually bed-ridden until his death in 1986. Like his teacher Dukas, Duruflé wrote only a handful of works, working slowly and perfecting each piece to the utmost. The Requiem, Op.9, his
most famous work, was written for a commission, in 1947. It is often compared to the Fauré Requiem (1888-89) as contrasting versions of the same
work using different instrumental forces.
At the time, the composer was working on an organ suite based on the
Gregorian themes of the Messe de Morts, which he took as the basis of his
Requiem. The work begins with the Introit in extreme pianissimo. The
strings provide a subtle background for the entrance of the chorus chanting
Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine. The Kyrie follows without break. The
voice of the orchestra raises to create a highly atmospheric effect,
returning gradually to silence. The Domine Jesu Christe opens with dark
hues from the organ before the chorus begins its invocation. The second
stanza raises in intensity. The trumpets have a powerful intervention. It
subsides and a brief interlude precedes the pensive third stanza. The
baritone solo sings the next two stanzas with a sparse accompaniment. The choir returns for the last two lines. Against expectations, the Sanctus
begins quiet and subdued. The trumpets make themselves heard again during the Hosanna, but subsides again for the Benedictus stanza. The Pie Jesu that
follows may be sung by the soprano solo with a cello obbligato, although the children chorus version is much more atmospheric. The organ pedal marks
the beginning of the Agnus Dei. The strings sing a wistful melody that
soars among the chorus voices, and then returns to mirror the opening. The
Lux Æterna begins with an organ murmurs and then alternating interventions
with the chorus. A brass chord opens the Libera me. The voices rapidly
raise the intensity. The baritone sings the second stanza. The third
stanza, Dies illa, Dies iræ is the most intense of the work, but shortly
after it subsides for the last stanza, Requiem æternam. The work closes
with In Paradisum, a subdued section that fades to silence with the words
“eternally may you have rest.”
Chorus member Lerial Johnson Davis comments, “Not all Christian music is contemporary. For those who would like to hear something beautiful
and which glorifies the Lord, try this.” Describing the piece, she adds, “There’s a Pie Jesu, an Agnus Dei (a la Michael W. Smith but older) several movements that are in the Gregorian chant style, several lush harmonies, a Kyrie movement, the Domine Yesu Christe; this whole piece just gives glory to God.” While the majority of pieces are performed in the original Latin, Leriel adds, “I’m listening to him as he traslates it at practise and I get goosebumps at how it lifts up God.”
Tickets for this SunTrust Classical Series concert are available at all Ticketmaster locations. Ticket information may also be obtained from The Nashville Symphony Ticket Service, 209 10th Avenue South in Cummins Station, Suite 221, or by calling 615/255-ARTS. Ticket prices range from $10 to $50.
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