Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Requiem - Maurice Duruflé

Maurice Duruflé
1902 - 1986
Maurice Duruflé was a pianist, organist and composer in the twentieth century. As one of the brightest musicians of his age, he entered Le Conservatoire de Paris, where he graduated with the skills that would eventually enable him to compose for years to come. As well as this, Duruflé was even awarded the position of assistant organist at Notre Dame in Paris.

Despite his talents as a performer, he was seriously injured in a car accident in 1975, which left him confined to his own apartment for most of the rest of his life, leaving his musical commitments to his wife Marie-Madeleine. Although he is seen by many as a great composer, Duruflé was one of the most self-critical musicians of his time, and was rarely satisfied with his compositions - even altering them once they had been published, creating several different versions of some of his pieces. His most famous work is his requiem, which - although relatively short compared to other composers - is truly beautiful, and contains particularly heartbreaking and emotional movements such as the mezzo-soprano solo, Pie Jesu.

The reason I love this requiem so much, is because of Duruflé's creative and haunting use of harmony, as well as his wonderful arrangement for organ. Unlike most other large works, I cannot pick a favourite movement, as they can all stand on their own as intricate and inspirational pieces. To pick two contrasting movements, I chose the mezzo-soprano solo Pie Jesu, and the choral wonder: Sanctus. The Pie Jesu, reflecting the translation: Kind Lord Jesus, grant them rest. Kind Lord Jesus, grant them everlasting rest. Starting on a sustained organ chord, the entrance of the voice creates a tender mood for the piece, that later grows into something much more dramatic. Moreover, the voice is in constant conversation with a solo cello, which emphasises the yearning harmonies beneath. As well as playing with different time signatures, the requiem is full of unexpected chord progressions, often switching completely in the middle of the phrase. At 1:38, the piece comes to its climax, and settles down again to 'rest' at the end. The video above is a recording sang by Sarah Connolly, accompanied by Robert Cohen on cello.

Much more up beat than the Pie Jesu, the Sanctus provides a chance for the whole choir to sing their guts out! Similar to the solo, the Sanctus is full of twists and turns in time and harmony. Opening just with sopranos and altos, the piece builds gradually to a very loud exclamation of 'hosana in the highest' from the whole choir at 1:55. This is immensely fun to sing, as I know from singing it with my school choir, as all of the sopranos are desperately trying to reach up to the very high top Bb. Despite being two of the most distinctive movements from the requiem, I urge you to listen to the whole thing as it lasts only just under an hour, and is honestly worth it!

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