Maurice Duruflé

Maurice Duruflé was an outstanding French organist, teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, and composer. However, his published works number only eleven, most of which are tied to liturgical themes and texts. His small compositional output results from sharp self-criticism, self-effacing personality, and lack of self-confidence. “I work slowly, and I throw a lot away,“ he noted. And sometimes in his scores, he even wrote, “Not to be published.” His beautiful Requiem is his most famous piece. For those interested in a detailed analysis, see a well-researched thesis, The Duruflé Requiem: A Guide for Interpretation (2000) by Karen Lou Cooksey, Butler University.

Maurice Duruflé completed his Requiem in 1947, although he had accepted a commission for this work in 1941 by the collaborationist Vichy Regime in France.   Eventually, per his self-criticism, he wrote three versions of the score, and for flexibility in the orchestral version, he indicated that a choir could sing the solos. With this green light, the result has been that presentations of this Requiem vary according to the choice of the presenting organization.  In this concert you will hear a version for orchestra and choir.  He also flexed in the movements selected for his Requiem mass, leaving out the Gradual and the Tract, adding a Pie JesuLibera me, and In Paradisum.

Although this is a twentieth century work, the composer based much of the material on Gregorian chant and the Gregorian Mass for the Dead. Gregorian refers to the chant used in the Catholic Church under the rule of Pope Gregory. Known for his codification of chants, his name was appended to that work.  After Vatican II, Gregorian chant was dismissed as being out-moded.  Duruflé protested: “Gregorian chant, which seems to some to be a music linked to a dusty past, is in reality very young for us who realize that it has only been known in its original beauty for a short time.”

Duruflé had been in a choir school for Cathedral training between the ages of 10–16 and was strongly influenced for the rest of his life by plainsong traditions and modal harmonies. The composer explained in his program notes:

“This Requiem is entirely composed on the Gregorian themes of the Mass for the Dead. Sometimes the 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. In general, I have sought above all to enter into the characteristic style of the Gregorian themes.” Characteristics of Gregorian style include holiness, lyricism, free flowing meter (hence many of the metric changes found in the Requiem) and serenity.  “The strong beats had to lose their dominant character in order to take on the same intensity as the weak beats in such a way that the rhythmic Gregorian accent or the tonic Latin accent could be placed freely on any beat of our modern tempo.”

The composer’s program notes, in part, read:

“This Requiem is not an ethereal work which sings of detachment from earthly worries.  It reflects, in the immutable form of the Christian prayer, the agony of man faced with the mystery of his ultimate end.  It is often dramatic, or filled with resignation, or hope or terror, just as the words of the Scripture themselves, which are used in the liturgy.  It tends to translate human feelings before their

terrifying, unexplainable of consoling destiny. In Paradisum [marks] the ultimate answer of Faith to all the questions by the flight of the soul to Paradise.”


The nine sections are:

Introit (Requiem aeternam): molto largo


Offertory (Domine Jesu Christe): Adagio molto

Sanctus: Andante moderato

Pie Jesu: Adagio

Agnus Dei: Andante

Communion (Lux aeterna)

Libera me: Moderato

In Paradisum: Andante moderato

© Marianne Williams Tobias, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, 2016.

See all Program Notes

Program Notes