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Maurice Duruflé - complete sacred choral works

Maurice Duruflé - complete sacred choral works cover picture

Truro Cathedral Choir with Dawid Kimberg Baritone

Director: Robert Sharpe
Organ: Christopher Gray
Messe de Requiem opus 9 (1947)
Domine Jesu Christe
Sanctus and Benedictus
Pie Jesu
Agnus Dei
Lux aeterna
Libera me
In paradisum
Quatre Motets opus 10 (1960)
Ubi caritas et amor
Tota pulchra es Maria
Tu es Petrus
Tantum ergo

Messe cum jubilo opus 11 (1966)
Agnus Dei

Nôtre Père opus 14 (1978)

Total playing time 63m 30s

Maurice Duruflé - complete sacred choral works

Gregorian Chant and the nineteenth century revival

By the time of Pope Gregory the Great (590 - 604) the form of the Mass was more or less settled. The sung parts consisted of the Ordinary, which remained constant every day, and the Proper, texts appropriate to the events or to the Saints to be commemorated at the services for each day of the year. It was Gregory's wish to regularise the music sung at the Mass and at other ceremonies throughout the Western church, associating a set melody, to be sung in unison and unaccompanied, for each Proper text.

For the Ordinary, various sets of melodies were allowed, and allocated to various times of the year, and these melodies continued to be written throughout the medieval period. Thus we have the services named, for instance, Orbis factor (10th century), Cum jubilo (12th century, for feast days of the Blessed Virgin Mary), and, as a very late example, De angelis (about 1500).

After the Missa de angelis, interest in the chant began to fade. With the rise of polyphonic music, singers and congregations became more accustomed to music with a regular beat, and the various scales - modes - in which plainchant was written gradually gave way to just two, major and minor. Plainchant was still sung, but the repertoire shrank to just a few well-known melodies, and these were often heard in a bowdlerised form, greatly simplified and with ironed-out rhythms.

The revival of interest in plainsong in the second half of the nineteenth century will always be attributed to the researches of Dom Joseph Pothier and the Benedictine monks of the Abbey of Solesmes. Plainsong study quickly became a French speciality, at centres such as the choir school at Rouen where Duruflé received his early education. French organists realised that the flexible rhythms and memorable outlines of the chant were a perfect basis for organ compositions and improvisations. One of the first great exponents of this art was Charles Tournemire (1870 - 1939), the organist of Sainte Clotilde in Paris.

Maurice Duruflé (1902 - 1986)

From the age of 18, Duruflé was at the Paris Conservatoire, an outstandingly gifted and promising student. He won the first prizes in harmony, fugue, composition and organ playing. During this time he deputised for Tournemire at Ste Clotilde and over the years spent many hours in transcribing Tournemire's recorded plainsong improvisations. He also deputised for Louis Vierne (1870 - 1937) at Nôtre Dame, learning from him a very different style of organ composition, vivid in melody, harmony and rhythm and especially in its masterly use of structure.

He was taught composition by Paul Dukas (1865 - 1935), whose one single well-known piece, the symphonic poem L'apprenti sorcier shows an incredible mastery of the colours of the orchestra. Dukas was a slow and painstaking composer, remarkably lacking in self-confidence, who destroyed almost all his music. Like his teacher, Duruflé was also a slow composer, constantly revising his work. He likewise produced only one great orchestral work, the brilliant, exotic Trois dances (opus 6, 1932).

It was as an organist that he made his name. In 1930 he was appointed organist of St-Etienne-du-Mont, the great renaissance church in the Latin Quarter of Paris, from 1953 sharing the post with his wife Marie-Madeleine Chevalier-Duruflé. He was in great demand as a recitalist around the world, especially in the USA, and as a teacher; perhaps the greatest ever teacher of improvisation.

Requiem, Opus 9, 1947

Duruflé wrote the Requiem in response to a commission from the publishers Durand & Cie for a choral and orchestral work. This was an act of faith on their part, since he had never so far written any vocal music. He had been working on some organ fantasias based on Gregorian themes, including some on the music of the Missa pro defunctis, and decided to convert them into a choral setting.

Well-known settings of the Requiem Mass by Mozart, Verdi and others usually have at their heart the sequence Dies Irae but, following the cue of Gabriel Fauré, Duruflé clearly did not think that a long medieval poem about eternal damnation was suitable for a 20th century funeral service. Nevertheless, these pieces are genuine liturgical music, unlike many modern works under the name of Requiem.

In other respects, this piece is very different from Fauré's. The great majority of the sung lines in the Duruflé are original plainsong melodies, the one exception being at Dies Illa in the dark eighth movement, when "an original musical fabric inspired by the text takes over completely". The springing rhythms of the melodies are carefully preserved: in the composer's own words, "In general, I have attempted to penetrate to the essence of Gregorian style and have attempted to reconcile, as far as possible, the very flexible Gregorian rhythms as established by the Benedictines of Solesmes with the exigencies of modern notation".

The exquisite orchestral score clothes the lines in sounds which vary from ethereal to earthy, from ecstatic to powerfully ominous. He makes particularly striking use of the woodwind choirs, including the plangent tones of the bass clarinet and two cors anglais. The alternative organ score which Duruflé provided uses to the full the varied colours of the French romantic organ, and the outstanding 1888 Willis organ at Truro Cathedral is very French in style. Much later, in the 1960s, Duruflé wrote a third (and a fourth) accompaniment, for organ and strings, with optional trumpets and timpani, but always considered these inferior to the original scores.

Quatre motets sur des thèmes gregoriens, opus 10, 1960

The four motets are settings of texts designed for particular occasions in the church year.

Ubi caritas is a text to accompany the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday, commemorating Christ's action in washing his disciples' feet on the night he was betrayed. The plainsong melody is set in the alto part, with a simple syllabic accompaniment from the other voices.

Tota pulchra es, Maria is a sweetly lyrical setting for upper voices of a text in honour of Christ's mother, particularly associated with the feast of the Assumption.
Tu es Petrus is an extremely short motet for St Peter's day, using the theme in a very tight polyphonic structure, the whole effect being rocklike and boisterous. This is an important text for the Catholic Church, establishing the supremacy of Peter, and hence of the Roman church, at the centre of Christendom.

Tantum ergo sacramentum is a hymn sung at the adoration of the sacrament at Benediction, particularly on the feast of Corpus Christi. Unusually, the simple plainsong theme in the treble part is followed canonically by a decorated version of the theme in the tenor.

Messe "Cum jubilo", opus 11, 1966

In 1962, Pope John 23 called together the council which we know as Vatican II. Many of the changes made by the council were welcome and necessary, but they effectively brought to an end (at least for a time) the traditional ceremonial worship with choral music, Latin and plainsong. The mass setting "Cum jubilo" therefore cannot have been intended for public worship. It was composed at the request of the director of the Gregorian Institute of Paris, Auguste Le Guennant, and scored for solo voice with organ.

The mass demonstrates Duruflé's distaste for the excessively emotional music which he felt had beset the church in the past hundred years. It uses the plainsong themes with great delicacy and clothes them with an organ part of amazing variety - contrast the outburst of joy at the beginning of the Gloria with the ethereal questing in the Benedictus.

Duruflé provided alternative versions of the mass to increase its usefulness, with a unison choir of men's voices, accompanied by either organ and strings or by a small orchestra.

Nôtre Père, opus 14, 1976

In 1975, Duruflé was returning from a recital tour in the south of France with his wife when they had a horrific motor accident, from which he was never to recover. His playing career was at an end, though Marie-Madeleine was able to continue to teach and to play until her death in 1999. His only composition after the accident was the little setting of the Lord's Prayer with which this recording ends.

It is in French, not related to plainsong, harmonically very simple, entirely syllabic; it fulfils exactly the requirements of the new liturgy. And yet it has a sweetness and honesty of expression that is very difficult to find in popular church music. Typically, he wrote it (or rather, dictated it) in two separate forms, one for four part choir and the one for solo voice with organ performed here by the trebles of the Cathedral choir.

Truro Cathedral Choir

The choir of Truro Cathedral consists of eighteen boy choristers and twelve gentlemen. At the present time, there are eight lay vicars and four choral scholars; the lay vicars reside locally and have employment in or around Truro in addition to their duties at the cathedral, and the choral scholars spend a year in Truro either before or after higher education. The choristers are all educated at Polwhele House School, to which they receive generous scholarships from the cathedral.

The choir's primary function is to provide music which is carefully integrated with the magnificent ceremonial and liturgical excellence which characterises the cathedral's worship. Each week there are six choral services, usually with the full choir, comprising Sung Mass and Evensong each Sunday and either Evensong or Solemn Mass on four weekdays. The music for these services is chosen to complement the liturgical themes of each season or festival.

In addition, the choir presents a termly concert in the cathedral and regularly sings in other venues around the Duchy of Cornwall, carrying the mission of the cathedral out into the diocese. The choristers take part in a flourishing outreach project each term, going out to local schools with their music before hosting the school choirs for a concert of their own in the cathedral. The choir records and broadcasts regularly and undertakes a major international tour every two years or so. During 2004, they toured Austria, Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Germany and plans for 2005 include a major tour to South Africa.

For further details about the choir, and information about choristerships and choral scholarships, visit their website.

Robert Sharpe

Robert Sharpe took up the appointment of Director of Music and Organist of Truro Cathedral in September 2002, having previously held the post of Assistant Organist at Lichfield Cathedral. Prior to this, he held organ scholarships at St Albans Abbey, working with Barry Rose, and at Exeter College, Oxford, where he was responsible for training the men and boys choir.

Robert Sharpe has performed as both soloist and accompanist on television and radio, and in many parts of Europe and the USA, working with Andrew Lumsden and the choir of Lichfield Cathedral and with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Bach Choir. He has released various organ recordings in recent years which have been well-received by the critics.

Robert Sharpe studied the organ with Roger Bryan, the late Nicholas Danby and with David Sanger and performs frequently in concert. With the choir of Truro Cathedral, he directed a recording of Christmas music, When He is King and another of music for Lent, Living Bread.

Robert Sharpe is also Musical Director of Three Spires Singers and Orchestra with whom he recently released a live recording of a new major choral work by British composer Paul Spicer, Easter Oratorio.

Christopher Gray

Christopher Gray was appointed Assistant Organist of Truro Cathedral in September 2000, having previously held organ scholarships at Pembroke College, Cambridge and at Guildford Cathedral. Born in Bangor, Northern Ireland, he was a boy chorister with the Gryphon Consort and subsequently Assistant Organist at St George's Church, Belfast. During this period, he accompanied the choir on three recordings.

Whilst in Cambridge, Christopher Gray directed the choir of Pembroke College and undertook concerts and tours both in this country and in Switzerland, Finland, Estonia, Northern Ireland and Japan. He studied the organ with David Sanger and Nicolas Kynaston and subsequently with Margaret Phillips at the Royal College of Music where he was a prizewinner. At Truro, he has appeared many times with the cathedral choir on radio and television.

In January 2004, Christopher Gray was appointed to the new full-time post of Assistant Director of Music at Truro Cathedral. He is also conductor of the Cornwall County Junior Choir and of St Mary's Singers, the cathedral's voluntary choir.

Dawid Kimberg

Dawid Kimberg was born in Johannesburg in 1981. He showed an interest in music from a young age and subsequently attended the Drakensberg Boys' Choir School. He excelled as a young soloist and toured extensively with the choir to five continents. At the age of 18 he appeared with the Johannesburg Festival Orchestra for performances of the Messiah by Handel and Nelson Mass by Haydn.

He moved to the UK in 2001 and is now a scholar at the Royal College of Music where he studies with Ryland Davies. Last year he performed in Bach's Weinachts Oratorium at St John's Smith Square under the direction of Peter Schreier. He also performed the Missa Solemnis by Beethoven in Wells Cathedral with the London Mozart Players.

Other performances around the UK and in South Africa include the St John Passion, St. Matthew Passion, Magnificat in D and the Mass in B minor by Bach, Messiah, Mozart's Requiem, Carmina Burana by Carl Orff and Puccini's Messe di Gloria. He has recently performed in the opera Parthenogenesis by James MacMillan in Canterbury Cathedral under the direction of Nicholas Cleobury, in the presence of the composer and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Dawid recently gave his first performance of Die Schöne Müllerin in the Mitchell Hall in Aberdeen. Future appearances include Porgy in George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess and the Cantor in Ernest Bloch's Sacred Service.

Recorded in Truro Cathedral on 12th and 13th July 2004 by kind permission of the Chapter

Produced by John Hosking
Recorded and edited by Lance Andrews
Photograph and cover design by Sheila Gill-Sparrow