Director of Music, Dr Simon Lindley, writes:
Maurice Duruflé followed his teacher, Paul Dukas, in exercising a profound degree of self-criticism resulting in only a very small number of works surviving.
Of these, the glorious setting of the Requiem – founded entirely upon traditional ancient Plainchant melodies – is by far the most substantial. Its luminosity of expression and profound strength of purpose combine to make it one of the most powerful 20th century sacred choral utterances.
Duruflé follows Fauré in omitting all but the very brief final stanza of the lengthy Dies irae placed between Kyrie and the Offertory of the traditional mass for the dead. He also, like Fauré , includes the final In Paradisum antiphon originally sung at the graveside. Pie Jesu is all that remains from Dies irae – but what a very powerful setting it is, enhanced by a glorious solo part for cello.
The melodic plainchant lines are wonderfully accompanied by vivid and even exotic harmonies. The composer’s original score, as heard at St Chad’s, was for organ alone. Later versions followed for full orchestra and, finally – we believe the composer’s favourite – for strings, trumpets and organ as well as timpani. The work requires a choir capable of the profoundest expression and possessed of an outstanding technique, for much is demanded from the score.
The piece unfolds from a fluent Introit with the chant mainly allotted to lower voices, topped by vocalised soprano and alto parts. Kyrie that follows is polyphonic and builds to a vast plea for mercy. The Offertory, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei continue the relentless, even ecstatic, progress of the piece. Lux aeterna provides exquisite relief, the chant intoned by sopranos with rich harmony vocalised below. The very final movement, again led by sopranos, is slow and sustained, based in the favourite tonality of Olivier Messiaen, the brightest key of all – F sharp major.