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Requiem, Op 9
First line:
Requiem aeternam
author of text
Mass for the Dead

'Fauré & Duruflé: Requiem' (CDA67070)
Fauré & Duruflé: Requiem
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'Duruflé: Requiem & Messe Cum jubilo' (CDA66757)
Duruflé: Requiem & Messe Cum jubilo
'Duruflé: Requiem & Four Motets' (CDA66191)
Duruflé: Requiem & Four Motets
'Music for Remembrance' (CDA68020)
Music for Remembrance
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'Remembrance' (CDA67398)
'Hyperion monthly sampler – October 2014' (HYP201410)
Hyperion monthly sampler – October 2014
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Movement 1: Introït  Requiem aeternam
Movement 2: Kyrie
Movement 3: Domine Jesu Christe
Movement 4: Sanctus
Movement 5: Pie Jesu
Movement 6: Agnus Dei
Movement 7: Lux aeterna
Movement 8: Libera me
Movement 9: In paradisum

Requiem, Op 9
‘Dors en oubli et calme, dors en paix douce … dors, soldat, ton sommeil éternel’ (‘Sleep, soldier, in forgetfulness and eternal peace …’): these are the words of the choral finale of Symphony No 6, ‘In Memoriam’, by Alexandre Tansman, composed in 1944 ‘in memory of those who have died for France’. The Symphony was broadcast in a memorial concert on French radio on All Souls’ Day, 2 November 1947, accompanied by two other works: the Pièce symphonique ‘In Memoriam’ (1941) by the Francophile Hungarian composer László Lajtha, and the premiere of Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem. A public performance of the Requiem followed in December, with further performances in Paris on, or just after, Armistice Day in November 1948 and 1949. In its early days, there is no doubt that the Requiem was perceived as a response to the Second World War. Most unusually, the first four performances were all given by different choirs and orchestras, perhaps indicating that this was seen as a work of special significance. By the time of Duruflé’s death in 1986, the Requiem was earning more in hire and performance fees than any other work by a contemporary French composer; the whole world had fallen under its magic spell, and the wartime connection was forgotten. After decades of tactful silence, however, the past twenty years have seen an explosion of research into the complexities and compromises of cultural life in France under the Nazi Occupation; we now know that Duruflé accepted a commission ‘for a symphonic poem’ from the Vichy government in May 1941, and that in January 1948 he submitted an invoice for the composition of the Requiem. As a result, the work is now often described as a ‘Vichy Commission’.

Under the Occupation of 1940–44 the collaborationist Vichy regime offered a generous programme of state commissions as a useful instrument of propaganda to increase the prestige of French culture; sixty-one composers benefited from the scheme (including some with links to the Resistance), though some of the commissions led to nothing or were never performed. We know that Duruflé did not complete the Requiem until September 1947. Some musicologists now assume that he must have begun it in 1941, and that the ideology of Vichy influenced some of his ‘compositional choices’—but there is no evidence for any of this. Duruflé was a notoriously slow worker, and his first wartime memorial was an organ piece, a tribute to his young friend Jehan Alain, ‘mort pour la France’, which he premiered in December 1942. Other work and a new full-time appointment as Professor of Harmony at the Paris Conservatoire kept him fully occupied until the end of the war and beyond. In the winter of 1945 he said: ‘My personal work is absolutely nil. In my frigidaire [his tiny rooftop apartment] it’s impossible to think of a single bar.’ But Duruflé himself said the Requiem originated ‘around 1945’, so ideas may already have been forming in his mind; the work is dedicated to the memory of his father, who had died in February. The original plan was for a suite of organ pieces to be performed during a Requiem Mass, but it soon turned into something much bigger, a major concert work for chorus and full orchestra (‘I am terrified by the adventure I have embarked upon’, he said in July 1946). To facilitate performance in church, where the music so clearly belongs, he also made an organ reduction of the orchestral parts, and later published a third edition, with organ and a small chamber orchestra.

Duruflé’s Requiem is often described as the only successor to Fauré’s, but in fact it was the fourth big Requiem to appear in France in eight years, and the other three composers were probably better known at the time than the young Parisian organist: the veteran Franck pupil Guy Ropartz (1939); Debussy’s friend, the conductor Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht (1942); and the conductor Henri Tomasi (Requiem ‘pour la Paix, à tous les Martyrs de la Résistance et à tous ceux qui sont morts pour la France’, 1946). What makes Duruflé’s work unique—and has ensured its survival while the others (rather unfairly) sank without trace—is the presence of Gregorian Chant; each of the nine movements is inspired and shaped, more or less closely, by the appropriate plainsong melody from the traditional Catholic liturgy of the Missa pro defunctis. Duruflé was a devoted servant of the church. In his youth he was a choirboy at Rouen Cathedral, and it was here, amid the grandiose music, the gorgeous flowers and the sumptuous robes of the great Feast Days, that he found his vocation as a church musician. And it was here that he fell in love with plainsong and the timeless world of the medieval modes, in which he found ‘a variety of colours and expression which is infinitely seductive’. ‘Truly,’ said his wife, ‘he had a Gregorian soul.’

The Requiem is many ways a paradoxical work. Plainsong is in its very essence the most rarefied form of music, ‘pure as an angel’s wing’ (Messiaen), purged of all human emotion. But Duruflé’s sensuous harmonies suffuse every note with feeling: ‘This Requiem is not an ethereal work which sings of detachment from human concerns’, he said. ‘It reflects, in the unchanging form of Christian prayer, the anguish of man faced with the mystery of his final end.’ And the fluid rhythm of plainsong is essentially incompatible with the regularity of modern bar-lines. But Duruflé instinctively overcame these obstacles to create a work of unimpeachable integrity, a miraculous synthesis of the old and the new. He said that he ‘clung desperately’ to the chant, but much of it was simply unusable in its original form, and he often had to let go, retaining just a vague memory of a short melodic motif, or sometimes retaining nothing at all; many phrases that sound like plainsong are actually pure Duruflé (the ‘Christe eleison’, the baritone solo in the ‘Domine Jesu Christe’, and most of the ‘Libera me’). And Duruflé’s own tunes are always as memorable as the chant they accompany or replace (think of the angelic counter-melody of the ‘Agnus Dei’, or the organ refrain of ‘Lux aeterna’).

When the chant is clearly evident, it sometimes floats across the barlines (in the ‘Introït’ and ‘Agnus Dei’) and is sometimes confined in a more regular pulse (the glorious polyphonic ‘Kyrie’, and the swaying processional of the ‘Sanctus’, with its heaven-storming ‘Hosannas’). The infinite flexibility and variety of rhythm, texture and colour are reinforced by a masterly control of tonality. The most distant keys are reserved for the most overtly dramatic movements: A flat for the dark-hued ‘Pie Jesu’, and F sharp minor for the ‘Libera me’ and ‘Domine Jesu Christe’. But the terrors of eternal damnation are quieted by the promise of salvation, the serene conclusion of the ‘Domine Jesu Christe’ (‘Quam olim Abrahae …’) offering a foretaste of the eternal peace to come in the ‘In paradisum’ through a radiance of F sharp major: ‘May the choir of angels receive you …’

from notes by David Gammie © 2014

Track-specific metadata
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Details for CDA67070 track 12
Pie Jesu
Recording date
5 October 1985
Recording venue
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Antony Howell
Hyperion usage
  1. Duruflé: Requiem & Four Motets (CDA66191)
    Disc 1 Track 5
    Release date: February 1987
  2. Fauré & Duruflé: Requiem (CDA67070)
    Disc 1 Track 12
    Release date: April 1998
    Deletion date: October 2014
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