spring 13 concert notes

Maurice Duruflé Requiem Mass Op. 9

Duruflé, the organist

Self-critical almost to a fault, the French organist and composer Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986) deemed only fourteen of his compositions as suitable for publication. Of these, the Requiem, Op. 9, is easily the most ambitious. Written in 1947 on a commission from the publisher Durand, the Requiem is dedicated to the memory of Duruflé’s father, Henry, a successful architect who had died two years previously.

Described by one critic as “an astounding successful compromise between musical styles 1,400 years apart,” the Requiem draws almost exclusively from Gregorian chant — until recently the central liturgical music of the Roman Catholic Church — for its musical themes. Duruflé, one of the premier organists of his generation, openly acknowledged the seminal influence of Gregorian chant on his musical upbringing:

For me, Gregorian chant is something tyrannical. It has perhaps surrounded me too much, too much — how shall I say? — narrowed my harmonic field. But I don’t want to talk of my ‘Gregorian narrowing.’ Quite the contrary, I am grateful for it.

In contrast, the harmonic language of the Requiem is couched in the music of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, whose modally-inflected music provided a template for Duruflé’s own experiments in combining modern harmony with the modal flavors of Gregorian chant. Similarly, Duruflé modeled the structure of his Requiem after the Requiem of Gabriel Fauré, the other famous French setting of the Mass for the Dead. Both composers omit the bulk of the “Dies Irae” (Day of Wrath) sequence from their Requiems, while adding two texts from the Order of Burial, “Libera me” and “In paradisum.”

Perhaps the intentions of the Requiem are best summed up by Duruflé himself, as quoted from program notes written for a 1980 performance conducted by his sister-in-law:

...Sometimes the musical text has been respected in full, the orchestra intervening only to sustain or to comment on it; sometimes I was simply inspired by it or sometimes removed myself from it altogether…Generally speaking, I tried to get the particular style of the Gregorian themes firmly set in my mind.

I also endeavored as to reconcile as much as possible the Gregorian rhythm, as has been established by the Benedictines of Solesmes, with the demands of modern metrical notation. The rigidness of the latter, with its strong beats and weak beats recurring at regular intervals, is hardly compatible with the variety and fluidity of the Gregorian line, which is only a succession of rises and falls.

As for the musical form of each of the pieces composing this Requiem, it is generally inspired by the form proposed by the liturgy. The organ has only an incidental role. It intervenes, not to accompany the choirs, but only to underline certain accents or to make one momentarily forget the all too human sonorities of the orchestra. It represents the idea of peace, of Faith, and of Hope.

This Requiem is not an ethereal work which sings of detachment from earthly worries. It reflects, in the immutable form of the Christian prayer, the agony of man faced with the mystery of his ultimate end. It is often dramatic, or filled with resignation, or hope or terror, just as the words of the Scripture themselves which are used in the liturgy. It tends to translate human feelings before their terrifying, unexplainable or consoling destiny.

The “ultimate answer,” Duruflé concludes, is “Faith to all the questions, by the flight of the soul to Paradise.”

Notes prepared by
Derek Tam
BCCO Assistant Conductor

Costas Dafnis

Costas Dafnis, Carmen Vocis

CARMEN VOCIS is a poetic odyssey through the science of the human voice. In mist, she gives the spark. “My Soul is in my Breath.” Sustained drones are punctuated by respiring swells of energy and motion. As the mist clears, these bright flourishes relax into a freely lilting dance. Understanding replaces naiveté. Gathering our tools and accepting the charge to use them we declare, “I am in my Breath and in my Voice, and all my countrymen will hear me and understand.”

Listeners may identify glimpses of Marc’Antonio Ingegneri’s Tenebrae Factae Sunt (long mistakenly attributed to Palestrina) in which a loud voice cries heavenward out of the darkness before releasing his soul.

Text: Dr. William Aikin. Published to close an article called The Society of English Singers from The Musical Times Vol. 57, No. 881 (p. 322) on July 1st, 1916.

Michael Schachter

Michael Schachter, Oseh Shalom Bimromav

The text for Oseh Shalom Bimromav is a well-known Hebrew prayer from the Jewish liturgy.It is recited in several different places during a typical Shabbat (Sabbath) service, but it most poignantly concludes the Mourner’s Kaddish, a prayer used for remembrance of those who have passed on. The text serves as lyrics for many folk and liturgical musical settings as well. To me, its great expressive power comes from its profundity through simplicity and directness, qualities I tried to preserve in my musical rendering.

Michael Schachter, January 2013

Keane Southard

Keane Southard, A Day of Sunshine

A Day of Sunshine for Chorus and Chamber Orchestra was originally the second movement of a 15-minute three-movement cantata of the same name which was dedicated to and written for the Longfellow Chorus of Portland, Maine and Charles Kaufmann, director. The cantata was begun in June of 2009, completed in December of the same year, and won first prize in the 2010 Longfellow Chorus International Composers Cantata Competition after being premiered by the ensemble in February 2010. This version is just the second movement of the cantata, a setting of Longfellow's poem “A Day of Sunshine,” which I re-orchestrated for a smaller orchestra in July 2012. (In the original cantata, the three movements each set different poems of Longfellow, yet I entitled the entire cantata after this central poem.)

I joined my college's chorus in my first year in college, after not singing since I was a young boy. I will forever be thankful that the first work I sung was Ralph Vaughan Williams's beautiful and powerful “Sea Symphony,” which I completely fell in love with and this spurred my continued interest in works for chorus and orchestra. I later also sung in Bach's “St. Matthew Passion” and “Mass in B minor,” as well as William Bolcom's massive “Songs of Innocence and of Experience.”

A Day of Sunshine is entirely a song of thanks for being alive and the gift of life in the beauty of the natural world. Since moving to Boulder, Colorado in the middle of working on this piece, the amazing imagery and lines of poetry in this poem have taken on special meaning for me. I will now always associate the lines “Whose steep sierra far uplifts,/Its craggy summits white with drifts” with hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park and being amongst some of the most beautiful natural creations the earth has made. Ever since singing in the “Sea Symphony,” I realized how powerfully a chorus and orchestra could illuminate these words. Whitman's lines “Finally shall come the poet worthy that name,/The true son of God shall come singing.” are unimpressive sitting on a piece of paper, but when Vaughan Williams liberated them into the voices and instruments for his Symphony, I was so moved by its power. I hope that I have accomplished the same thing in this song, especially during the lines “Blow winds! and waft through all the rooms/The snowflakes of the cherry blooms!/Blow winds! and bend within my reach/The fiery blossoms of the peach!” I hope that when hearing my setting of these lines listeners will feel like they are standing on the top of a mountain looking over the world, as if the wind would lift them of their feet and sweep them back into being a real part of the beautiful natural world that we came from. The final line asks, and challenges, the listener to do just that.

Keane Southard, 2012