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At-A-Glance

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About this Piece

In May 1941, in an attempt to win favor with the public, the collaborationist Vichy government offered generous commissions to a number of prominent French composers. Duruflé accepted a commission to compose a symphonic poem but, as was the case throughout his life, habitual self-doubt and near debilitating perfectionism caused him to make extremely slow progress. Eventually, the idea of a symphonic poem was abandoned, and he turned his attention to writing a Requiem Mass. He was still at work on it in 1944 when the regime collapsed, and it was not until 1947 (at the age of thirty-five) that he completed his Opus 7 Requiem.

Like Fauré, Duruflé omitted certain portions of the original Requiem text.  He excised most of the highly dramatic Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) but, like Fauré, retained the gentle Pie Jesu, which became the achingly beautiful solo for mezzo soprano with obbligato cello.

At the heart of the Requiem’s musical language is plainsong, specifically the medieval melodies from the Mass for the Dead which Duruflé knew so well from his days in Rouen. Duruflé’s stated goal was to retain the fluid, elastic approach to rhythm that is characteristic of chant, with its constantly fluctuating groupings of twos and threes. The melodies are organically expanded and surrounded with impressionistic harmonies that at times seem to suggest “liturgical Debussy.” Duruflé wrote, “I have above all sought to enter into the particular style of Gregorian melodies and have been compelled to reconcile…the rhythm…with the requirements of modern [notation].