Maurice Duruflé : The Last Impressionist


Maurice Duruflé (11 January 1902 – 16 June 1986) was a French composer, organist, and teacher.

Although he was born in 1902 and died in 1986, Maurice Duruflé is not a typical 20th-century musician. Compared with other great composers of his day — Bernstein, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Britten — he seems strangely out of touch with his times, both in his music and his personality. Duruflé has been described by students, colleagues, and biographers as a reclusive and private person who seemed unusually unsure and timid given his fame. He lived in Paris during one its most chaotic and creative periods, and yet he had no interest in sharing in the salons of the literary and musical elite. Eschewing change, he was a conservative in a radical world. In 1969, for example, on hearing a jazz mass in one of its chapels at Saint Étienne, he expressed his outrage in a loud voice over what he considered to be a scandalous travesty!

bdd0bebee88ccee72808dac08072ae24By virtue of their intimate partnership, first of all as husband and wife, but also as musical colleagues, Maurice Duruflé and Marie-Madeleine Chevalier came to be regarded as a single, complementary entity. He provided the music that became her career, and she was his foremost interpreter. The difference that each made to the other was incalculable, such that neither could have made as profound an impact alone, outside of their alliance. This is not to deny the virtues and gifts of each, but merely to assert that by their companionship they constituted a miracle of collaboration. It is impossible to imagine what Duruflé’s influence as a composer would have been without his wife, the organist, who gave perfect expression to his compositions, or what Chevalier’s career would have been without her privileged access to him, to his organ, and to his music. She taught his private organ pupils before they advanced to study with him. She spoke for him, and, it must be said, she protected him from the public and was a keeper of his secrets.

Within the very tight personal and musical orbit in which he worked, Duruflé was a phenomenon. He composed a surprisingly small amount of music, working slowly and diligently with a focus on detail that required years of revision before a piece entered the public repertoire. He was recognized as the greatest organist of his day because he was a brilliant virtuoso player and because of his articles about and contributions to Durufle_classe_harmonie_CNSM_1956organ design. He was an outstanding teacher at the Paris Conservatory, with an unparalleled understanding of harmony and Gregorian chant, an ancient form that he helped restore to popularity. And of course his Requiem and a few organ works are unquestionable masterpieces, brilliantly cut and crafted gems that reach the heart with their purity and grace.  (Pilar Montero & Arthur Colman, “Maurice Duruflé: A Man Out of Step with His Times“, San Francisco Choral Society)

Duruflé composed his Requiem, Op. 9, in 1947, providing both an orchestral and organ version. He rescored the work for small orchestra in 1961. Concerning the Requiem, Duruflé wrote, “This Requiem is entirely composed on the Gregorian themes of the Mass for the Dead. Sometimes CDA66191__16609_stdthe musical text was completely respected, the orchestral part intervening only to support or comment on it; sometimes I was simply inspired by it or left it completely, for example in certain developments suggested by the Latin text, notably in the Domine Jesu Christe, the Sanctus and the Libera. In general, I have sought above all to enter into the characteristic style of the Gregorian themes. Therefore, I have done my best to reconcile, as far as possible, Gregorian rhythm as it has been established by the Benedictines of Solesmes with the demands of modern meter. “As for the musical form of each of these pieces, it is generally inspired by the same form presented in the liturgy. The organ’s role is merely episodic: it intervenes, not to support the chorus, but solely to underline certain accents or to replace temporarily the sonorities of the orchestra which sound all too human. It represents the idea of peace, faith, and hope.”

Like his mentor, Dukas, Duruflé was incredibly self-effacing, and spent considerable time re-working his compositions until they achieved what he felt was the correct level of perfection; in fact, there are only 14 published Opus numbers to his name. Duruflé’s early musical training was at the cathedral in Rouen, where there was a famous school of Gregorian chant. This repertory of liturgical song had become something of a French speciality in the 19th century, and among the scholars working on the chants were a group of Benedictines at the French monastery of Solesmes, who developed a theory of chant rhythm as a free succession of notes of mostly equal value in groups of two and three. The Solesmes school of chant restoration and performance achieved widespread acceptance in the Catholic church and even some Protestant congregations. After a Maurice Durufle Playing The Organ In 1956thorough steeping in this tradition, Duruflé came to Paris and studied at the Conservatoire, where he confronted the tradition of Fauré, Debussy, and Ravel. When he came to write his Requiem in 1947, like the earliest composers of polyphonic Requiems, Duruflé took the Gregorian plainchant Mass for the Dead as his raw material. His declared intention was ‘to reconcile, as far as possible, Gregorian rhythm…with the exigencies of modern meter.’ That is, he did not transcribe literally the original melodies with their irregular alternation of twos and threes; he adjusted the rhythms subtly so that larger metric patterns emerge, but still he allowed the meter to shift frequently so that a sense of spontaneity is preserved. At the same time, he clothed the sometimes archaic-sounding melodies in sophisticated harmonies of the early modern school. Although he came from a different liturgical tradition, Duruflé used similar texts to those used by Fauré in his requiem. The piece is in the true tendresse style, leaving out the chilling full Dies Irae and accentuating the aspect of forgiveness through the inclusion of a separate Pie Jesu and through constant repetition of the phrase ‘Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine’. Duruflé published the Requiem in three versions: for organ alone; for full orchestra and for organ and string quintet with harp, trumpets and timpani ad libitum. (Barry Creasy, Maurice Duruflé, Requiem Survey)

The work is set in nine movements. Like many requiems, Duruflé’s omits the Gradual and the Tract. The Dies irae text, perhaps the most famous portion of the Requiem Mass, is not set. Duruflé’s omission of this text and inclusion of others (Pie Jesu, Libera me, In Paradisum, from the burial service, mirroring Fauré), makes the composition calmer and more meditative than some other settings. In the full score, the fifth movement, Pie Jesu, has the only solo for the mezzo-soprano; in addition, even in the “organ-only” version of the Requiem, there is an obbligato cello solo. The baritone soloist has parts in the third movement, Domine Jesu Christe, and the penultimate movement, Libera me. Duruflé left indications in the score that, for the baritone soloist at least, it was preferable to have the choir sing the solos instead. This has resulted in various forces being used in different performances, some with both soloists, some with only the mezzo-soprano, and some (such as Robert Shaw’s Telarc recording) using no soloists at all.

  1. Introit (Requiem Aeternam)
  2. Kyrie eleison
  3. Offertory (Domine Jesu Christe)
  4. Sanctus and Benedictus
  5. Pie Jesu
  6. Agnus Dei
  7. Communion (Lux aeterna)
  8. Libera me
  9. In Paradisum

The full orchestra version is scored for 3 flutes (2nd and 3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes (2nd doubling 2nd cor anglais), cor anglais, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, cymbals, bass drum, tamtam, celesta, harp, organ, and strings (violins, violas, cellos, and double basses).

The reduced orchestra version is scored for 3 trumpets, timpani, harp, organ, and strings (violins, violas, cellos, and double basses). The organ part used in the reduced version is different from the organ part used in the version for choir and organ.

Recommended recordings:
Organ & Choir: Philip Ledger
Full orchestra: Andrew Davis
Chamber Orchestra: Matthew Best

Ebrecht, Ronald. Maurice Duruflé, 1902-1986: The Last Impressionist. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, 2002. Print.
Frazier, James E. Maurice Duruflé: The Man and His Music. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2007. Print.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s