Maurice Duruflé 


Requiem, Op.9
for mezzo-soprano soloist, chorus,
organ and cello


Maurice Duruflé was born at Louviers on 11 January 1902. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire (1919-1922) with Paul Dukas (composition) and with Tournemire and Vierne (organ). From 1919 to 1929 he was assistant organist at Sainte Clotilde and in 1930 was appointed organist of Saint Etienne-du-Mont, Paris, where he remained for over 50 years. 

In all this time he published only fourteen works, composition being for him a slow, laborious process involving constant revision and impeccable craftsmanship. Unlike his contemporary and friend Olivier Messiaen, Duruflé made no attempt to create new forms or to experiment with a new musical language but looked back to plainsong for his inspiration and to a previous generation of French composers – Franck, Debussy, Ravel, Fauré and Dukas – for his models. 

The Requiem, his largest and most important work, was the result of a commission from Duruflé’s publishers to compose a suite of organ pieces based on plainsong themes from the Mass for the Dead. On the death of his father, it became, in extended form, a Requiem, which was first performed in 1947. Duruflé himself made three different orchestrations: one for full orchestra (with optional organ), one for small ensemble with organ and the one to be heard tonight, for organ with cello.  

There are some similarities between this and Fauré’s Requiem in the choice of text, as well as in the allocation of movements between the soloist and the choir. However, as the composer explained in his programme notes: “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 or consoling destiny”.

I. Introit

Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine:
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Te decet hymnus Deus in Sion:
et tibi redetur
votum in Jerusalem.
Exaudi orationem meam,
ad te omnis caro veniet.
Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine:
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Grant them eternal rest, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
Thou art praised, O God, in Zion
and unto Thee shall the vow be
performed in Jerusalem.
Hear my prayer;
unto Thee shall all flesh come.
Grant them eternal rest, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.

The tenors and basses in unison sing the plainsong melody to ‘Requiem aeternam’ against a gently flowing organ accompaniment, with sopranos and altos vocalising an ‘â’ in harmony. At ‘Te decet hymnus’ the sopranos and altos sing a brighter, rhythmically freer, version of the plainsong against the organ’s block chords; finally, the organ itself plays the first version of the plainsong while the choir sings  simple, slow-moving harmonies.

II. Kyrie

In the Kyrie voices and organ (mainly doubling the vocal lines) weave flowing lines in a polyphonic texture. The voices build to a climax at the return of ‘Kyrie eleison’ before a solo organ stop intones the plainsong as a slow-moving cantus firmus in an effect reminiscent of a Bach cantata.

Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

III. Domine Jesu Christe

After a few preliminary bars at the start of the Offertory, Duruflé puts the plainsong melody in the organ, starting in the bass. The altos sing a counter-melody of similar character and the choir, singing in block harmony, declaims ‘Libera eas de ore leonis’, at first slowly then against an agitated accompaniment. The music rises to a tremendous climax before subsiding to a repeat of the organ introduction, the texture thinning even further when the sopranos enter with the ethereal episode ‘Sed signifer sanctus Michael’. The words ‘Quam Olim Abrahae’, which other composers have set to a fugue, are reduced to a quiet six bars of plainsong. The tenors and basses sing ‘Hostias et preces tibi’ in a hushed fashion. The music builds at
‘Tu suscipe’, but then becomes very quiet and still, as the women’s voices repeat ‘Quam Olim Abrahae…’.

Domine Jesu Christe, Rex gloriae,
libera animas omnium
fidelium defunctorum
de poenis inferni,
et de profundo lacu.

Libera eas de ore leonis,
ne absorbeat eas tartarus,
ne cadant in obscurum.
Sed signifer sanctus Michael
repraesentet eas in lucem sanctam,
quam olim Abrahae promisisti
et semine eius.

O Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory,
deliver the souls of all the
faithful departed
from the pains of hell,
and from the deep pit.

Deliver them from the lion’s mouth,
that hell may not swallow them up;
may they not fall into darkness.
But may the holy standard-bearer,
Michael, lead them into the holy light;
as once Thou didst promise
to Abraham and his seed.

Hostias et preces tibi Domine
laudis offerimus.
Tu suscipe pro animabus illis,
quarum hodie memoriam facimus.
Fac eas, Domine, de morte
transire ad vitam.
Quam olim Abrahae promisisti
et semini eius.

Sacrifices and prayers to Thee,
O Lord, we offer with praises.
Receive them on behalf of those souls
whom we commemorate this day.
Grant them, O Lord, to
pass from death into life;
As once Thou didst promise to Abraham
and his seed.

IV. Sanctus

Like that in Fauré’s Requiem and the Langlais Mass, the Sanctus is built over a moving, in this case very rapidly-moving, moto perpetuo on the organ.
The ‘Sanctus’ is sung by the sopranos and altos alone then the music builds as the other voices sing ‘Hosanna in excelsis’, to the loudest moment in the whole work, on ‘excelsis’, after which it dies away and the movement ends with the sopranos and altos singing pianissimo the ‘Benedictus’ and its own ‘Hosanna in excelsis’.

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis.

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis.

Holy, Holy, Holy
Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory,
Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.


V. Pie Jesu

The Pie Jesu, as in Fauré’s version, takes the form of a solo – this time for a
mezzo-soprano rather than a soprano and here accompanied by organ and cello. The words are sung, first quietly in the singer’s lower register, then in the upper register in a slightly quicker tempo. This impassioned appeal is far removed from the childlike innocence of the Fauré setting.

Pie Jesu, Domine,
dona eis requiem,
requiem sempiternam.

Merciful Lord Jesu,
grant them rest,
eternal rest.

VI. Agnus Dei

Plainsong reappears in the Agnus Dei, sung first by the altos, but here with a syncopated accompaniment which adds tension. To introduce the second appearance of the words, from the tenors, Duruflé brings in on the organ a wide-ranging counter-melody, not related to plainsong, which recurs at the last ‘dona eis requiem’.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis
peccata mundi,
dona eis requiem,
requiem sempiternam.

Lamb of God, that takest away
the sins of the world,
grant them rest,
eternal rest.

VII. Lux Aeterna

In the Lux Aeterna a tiny snatch of plainsong on the words ‘quia pius es’ acts as a sort of refrain and also forms the basis of the introductory music in the organ. ‘Lux aeterna’ is sung twice by the sopranos over a wordless accompaniment from the rest of the choir, then ‘Requiem aeternam’ is sung on a sustained note, first by sopranos and tenors, later by altos and basses. 

Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine :
Cum sanctis tuis in aeternum,
quia pius es.
Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis,
quia pius es.

May eternal light shine upon them, O Lord,
with Thy saints for ever,
for Thou art merciful.
Grant them eternal rest, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
For Thou art merciful.

VIII. Libera Me

The Libera Me is introduced by the basses and tenors with the whole choir finishing each of the statements. Over an organ tremolo the basses then announce fortissimo ‘Dies illa, dies irae’; their words are repeated even more loudly by the whole choir, but this outburst is short-lived. The sopranos sing ‘Requiem aeternam’, then the whole choir repeats the first words of the ‘Libera me’ and the movement ends quietly.

Libera me Domine, de morte aeterna,
in die illa tremenda:
Quando coeli movendi
sunt et terra:
Dum veneris judicare saeculum
per ignem.


Deliver me, Lord, from eternal death,
in that awful day:
When the heavens and the
earth shall be moved:
When Thou shalt come to judge the world
by fire.

Tremens factus sum ego, et timeo,
dum discussio venerit, atque ventura ira.
Quando coeli movendi sunt et terra.

Dies illa, dies irae,
calamitatis et miseriae,
dies magna, et amara valde.
Dum veneris judicare saeculum
per ignem.

Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Libera me Domine, de morte aeterna,
in die illa tremenda:
Quando coeli movendi
sunt et terra:
Dum veneris judicare saeculum
per ignem.

I tremble, and I fear
the judgement and the wrath to come.
When the heavens and the earth shall be moved:

That day, day of wrath,
of disaster and misery,
that great and exceeding bitter day.
When Thou shalt come to judge the world
by fire.

Grant them eternal rest, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.

Deliver me, Lord, from eternal death,
in that awful day:
When the heavens and the
earth shall be moved:
When Thou shalt come to judge the world
by fire.

VIII. In Paradisum

Duruflé treats the final antiphon In Paradisum very simply. The sopranos sing the plainsong melody up to ‘sanctam Jerusalem’ then a pedal note appears on the organ and the full chorus, divided ultimately into seven parts, sings ‘Chorus angelorum’, above which appears an independent melody on the organ. The final chord is marked ppp (very, very quiet), ‘très long’ (very long) and contains near-subliminal ‘extra’ notes which we sense rather than hear. Duruflé commented that In Paradisum marks “the ultimate answer of Faith to all the questions by the flight of the soul to Paradise”.

In Paradisum deducant te Angeli:
In tuo adventu
suscipiant te Martyres,
Et perducant te
in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.
Chorus angelorum te suscipiat,
Et cum Lazaro quondam paupere
Aeternam habeas requiem.

May the angels lead you into Paradise:
May your arrival
be greeted by the Martyrs,
And may they guide you
into the holy city, Jerusalem.
May the choir of angels receive you,
And with Lazarus, who once was poor,
May you have eternal rest.



Composer:  Duruflé Wiki Link: Title of Musical Work:  Requiem

London Concert Choir concerts featuring this musical work: