Arguably Duruflé’s greatest work, the Requiem is built upon chant melodies taken from the Gregorian Requiem Mass. It is dedicated to the memory of his father, and it exists in three forms: the original for full orchestra, abbreviated orchestra and prominent organ, and organ only accompaniment. All accompaniments were done by Duruflé himself.
Unfortunately, a full score is unavailable to the public for free.
The Introit begins with an almost literal use of chant melody sung by men’s voices. Duruflé, again, combines the chant with twentieth century techniques of Impressionism including the use of major second harmonies and melodic ostinatos. The accompaniment creates a never distracting shimmer for the chant first sung by men, then women, and finally the violins while the chorus intones the text.
The Kyrie is often described as one of the most beautiful in all of music. It is completely polyphonic and is equated to an orchestrated Palestrina. Duruflé apples the techniques of sixteenth-century contrapuntal style while the brass play a cantus firmus of long note values.
The opening of the Domine Jesu Christe is a plea for the release from hell, with the lower strings introducing the chant melody that becomes the movement’s unifying idea. The opening statement is followed by a harmonized version set in parallel triads for horns. Near the middle of the movement is the first outburst of the piece which is later calmed by the return of the opening melody.
The Sanctus follows the shape of the original Gregorian melody with changes in meter accommodating word stresses. The subtle meter changes and use of women’s voices create a feeling of weightlessness in the music. The men enter at the “Hosanna” with the music building to the piece’s first fff marking. Until then, the movement is very reserved, as seen in the four motets.
Highly compared to Fauré’s Requiem, Duruflé’s Requiem takes a slightly altered course upon the arrival of the Pie Jesu. Duruflé seems to prefer the warmer and richer sound of the mezzo-soprano to the boy soprano, since the music takes the singer into moments of dramatic expression. In this movement, a cello soloist has a dialogue with the singer, sometimes echoing a motive but more often responding independently to the emotion of the vocal line.
The Agnus Dei opens with an original melody played by the clarinet under a vocal melody based, again, on Gregorian chant. The lyricism of the original melody comes from the nineteenth-century style, the chant comes from the Middle Ages, and the harmonies, again, come from the twentieth century, creating a distinct fusion of musical styles.
The Lux aeterna follows the heavily chant based style of the other movements with a melody free of regularly recurring accents and constant changes in meter to accommodate the word stresses.
The Libera me gives the first major deviation from chant until the men carry the text “Tremens factus sum ego” at m. 34. A few measures later, Duruflé includes the dramatic words of the Dies Irae, which is a movement left out of the piece. Following another use of fff, the words of the Introit are reinserted, returning listeners to a meditative mood. Duruflé composed a simple, original melody for the words “Requiem aeternam” that sounds as if it were intended for an angelic choir. The movement closes with the processional character of the beginning of the movement, which follows the model of Fauré: “what began with a single voice part is now sung by the entire world of believers.”
In paradisum is not part of the Mass, but a prayer usually spoken at the grave site. The movement is based on the strings providing organ-like support for the chant as it floats above with innocence. Duruflé incorporates a subtle text painting near the end when the strings play an ascending scale as if reaching to heaven, while the voices sink down as a coffin being lain into the ground. Fittingly, the work ends on an unresolved seventh chord with an added ninth that gives another juxtaposition of Middle Ages chant and modern harmonization techniques.
Compared to other music of the same time, Duruflé's Requiem is harmonically safe and does not push the envelope in any aspect of music. It is highly connected to Fauré's Requiem in many of the ways stated before. The evolutions of the 20th Century minimally present themselves in the form of extended tertian harmony that is sometimes voiced for extended phrases. This piece is overall, like Fauré's, a very earnest setting of the Requiem, compared to others, such as Britten.
As one of Duruflé's only fourteen total compositions, the Requiem has an astonishing popularity in the repertoire of many North American choral organizations. This is due to its accessibility to performers. While it is thoroughly Modern, harmonically speaking, most dissonances remain diatonic and simple for younger or less educated choirs. I chose this piece because I think its value is understated because of the time period, in which it was written. In a time when the only 'good' music was music that broke barriers, Duruflé composed a heart felt setting of the Requiem, in honor of his father's death.
Bonds, Mark Evans. A History of Music in Western Culture. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice-Hall, 2013.
Frazier, James E. Maurice Duruflé: The Man and His Music. New York: University of Rochester Press, 2007.
Summer, Robert J. Choral Masterworks from Back to Britten: Reflections of a Conductor. Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2007.