In all his liturgical music, Duruflé’s profound religious faith is evident, most notably in the celebrated Requiem, op.9, completed in 1947. Originally scored for soloists, chorus, orchestra and organ, the work was transcribed for chorus and solo organ in 1948. The third version, for small orchestra, dates from 1961. Its first performance, on November 2, 1947, at Paris’s Salle Gaveau, was led by Roger Désormière, with the French Radio Choir, under the direction of Yvonne Gouverné, and soloists Hélène Bouvier and Camille Maurane.
Duruflé’s initial idea had been to compose a suite of organ pieces, each based on plainchant taken from the Mass for the Dead. Realizing his reluctance to detach the Latin text from the instrumental themes he had sketched, Duruflé transformed his design into a larger-scale work which became the Requiem. The text comprises nine of the sections forming the Mass for the Dead: Introit, Kyrie, Domine Jesu Christe, Sanctus, Pie Jesu, Agnus Dei, Lux Aeterna, Libera me, ending with the In Paradisum – the ultimate answer with which Faith allays all doubts: a depiction of the soul entering Paradise. To quote the composer:
‘The Requiem is entirely based on the Gregorian chant used in the Mass for the Dead. At times, the chant is incorporated unaltered and the orchestra intervenes only to accompany or to comment. At other times, it was from the Latin text alone that I took my inspiration, namely in the Domine Jesu Christe, Sanctus and Libera me. Throughout, I wished to be guided by the special shape of Gregorian melodies. As for the compositional form of each of the movements, it was suggested by the structure of the liturgy.... The organ is often used to give special emphasis to a line; it also represents a certain waning of Faith and Hope. The work is not meant as an ethereal paean to detachment from earthly cares; in its immutable form of a Christian prayer, the Requiem reflects man’s anguish as he contemplates the ultimate mystery of life and death. The music is at times dramatic or filled with a sense of resignation, hope or fear, mirroring the words of the Scriptures which form the liturgy. It aims to express the sentiments of a human being facing his or her terrifying, unfathomable or comforting fate.’