Just two weeks until our French concert!
We hope you will be able to come and enjoy this much loved music with us.
Beautiful Requiems by Fauré and Duruflé.
Saturday 19th November 7.30pm
Read the programme notes below to get the background to this French sacred music.
Welcome to a fascinating French evening, featuring three composers from very different epochs in the country’s history – linked to each other, and united in their love of choral and liturgical music.
The first mass which you will hear is by Jean Dattas (1919-1975), who was organist at Notre-Dame in Paris from 1949. He studied under Marcel Dupré, Alfred Cortot, and Olivier Messiaen. He moved to London in 1955, but for many years he returned every summer to play the organ at Notre-Dame.
Sylvie Dattas, Jean’s daughter, who is a member of BFCS, has the manuscript of his Messe (cum Jubilo), composed in 1951. Early this year she gave it to our music director Patrick Larley, who edited and annotated two movements, the Kyrie and the Agnus Dei, to be sung on our tour of Burgundy this summer. We loved the music and felt it deserved another performance!
Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986) was a good friend of Jean Dattas. He was a well-known church organist in Paris, who was appointed as a teacher in the Conservatoire shortly before the Nazi invasion. When he was commissioned in 1947 to write a Mass, he was already working on an organ suite, using themes from Gregorian chants. He incorporated his sketches for that suite into the Requiem, and this background gives the work its distinctive character.
The Requiem, which was dedicated to the composer’s father, has notable similarities to the better-known version by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924). Both are sensitively written, allocate the Pie Jesu to a soprano soloist, and finish with the quiet and meditative In Paradisum. However, Duruflé’s setting is more sensitive to the words of the liturgy, and more closely modelled on plainchant melodies. The original version was scored for a huge orchestra and organ, but we are using a later version, with organ alone.
The music beautifully captures the moods of the varied texts, most thrillingly in the Dies irae part of the Libera me movement. Intriguingly, Duruflé concludes his Requiem with an unresolved discord, an unanswered question as it were. Is this perhaps a reflection of the appalling experiences that the composer and his fellow-Parisians had so recently endured in the war?
When Duruflé joined the Paris Conservatoire in 1920, Fauré, aged 75, was its director. The youngest of six children, he had been the only one who showed any musical ability! This was recognised early, and he was sent to a new music school in Paris at the age of nine. When its founder, Louis Niedermayer, died in 1861, Fauré’s new piano teacher was Camille Saint-Saëns. A few years later, he composed the serene and atmospheric Cantique de Jean Racine, which not surprisingly won him the school’s top prize.
His Requiem, undoubtedly his best-known work, was not composed for a particular occasion; indeed, it was started in the 1880s and did not reach its complete form until 1900. It is interesting to note how this piece runs counter to most of the trends of the time. Most composers favoured large and loud orchestras and complicated textures (Wagner was much in vogue). This Requiem, by contrast, is deliberately smaller-scale and contains comparatively little fortissimo singing – perhaps partly because Fauré was strongly influenced by the phrasing of Gregorian chant.
In his setting of the Requiem, Fauré followed the example set by Brahms’s German Requiem, which aimed to comfort the living rather than dwell on the fears of hell. Fauré agreed with this approach, and the text of his Requiem omits the menacing words of the Dies Irae. He said, “Everything I managed to entertain by way of religious illusion I put into my Requiem, which moreover is dominated from beginning to end by a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest.” The result is a very varied piece, veering from sombre to sunlit in mood; we hope it will lift your hearts this evening, as a beautiful climax to the concert.