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Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Romantic Era > Requiem (Berlioz)


Hector Berlioz

In 1836, Berlioz was requested by M. de Gasparin, French Minister of the Interior, to write a requiem commemorating the victims of the July Revolution; but the work was not given to the public until 1837. It embraces ten numbers: I, Requiem and Kyrie ("Requiem aeternam dona eis"); II, III, IV, V, and VI, including different motives taken from the hymn, "Dies Irae"; VII, "Offertorium"; VIII, "Hostias et Preces"; IX, "Sanctus"; X, "Agnus Dei."

After a brief but majestic instrumental introduction, the voices enter upon the "Requiem" -- a beautiful and solemn strain. The movement is built upon three melodies set to the words "Requiem aeternam," "Tu decet Hymnus," and the "Kyrie," the accompaniment of which is very descriptive and characteristic. The "Kyrie" is specially impressive, the chant of the sopranos being answered by the tenors and basses in unison, the whole closing with a dirge-like movement by the orchestra.

The "Dies Irae" is the most spirited as well as impressive number of the work. It is intensely dramatic in its effects; indeed, it might be called theatrical. The first part will always be remarkable for the orchestral arrangement. After the climax of the motive, "Quantus tremor est futurus." there is a pause which is significant by its very silence ; it is the hush before the storm. Suddenly from either angle of the stage or hall, in addition to the principal orchestra in front, four smaller bands of trombones, trumpets, and tubas crash in with overwhelming power in the announcement of the terrors of the day of judgement. At its culmination the bass voices enter in unison upon the words "Tuba mirum," in the midst of another orchstral storm, which is still further heightened by an unusual number of kettle-drums. it is a relief when the storm has passed over, and we come to the next verse ("Quid sum miser"), for the basses and tenors, through mostly for the first tenors. It is a breathing spell of quiet delight and leads to the Andante number ("Rex tremendae Majestatis"), which is sung fortissimo through mostly for the first tenors. It is a breathing spell of the quiet delight and leads to the Andante number ("rex tremendae Majestatis"), which is sung by a fortissimo throughout, and accompanied with another tremendous outburst of harmonious thunder in crashing chords, which continues up to the last eight bars, when the voices drop suddenly from the furious fortissimo to an almost inaudible pianissimo on the words "Salve me." The next verse ("Quaerens me") is an unaccompanied six part chorus in imitative style, of very close harmony. The "Dies Irae" ends with the "Lachrymosa," the longest and most interesting number in the work. It is throughly melodic, and is peculiarly strengthened by a pathetic and sentimental accompaniment, which, taken in connection with the choral part against which it is set, presents an almost inexhaustible variety of rhythms and an originality of technical effects which are astonishing. Its general character is broad and solemn, and it closes with a return to the "Dies Irae," with full chorus and all the orchestras.

The next number is the "Offertorium," in which the voices are limited to a simple phrase of two notes, which is not changed throughout the somewhat long movement. It never becomes monotonous, however, so rich and varied is the intrumentation. The "Hostias et Preces," assigned to the tenors and bases, displays another of Berlioz's eccentricities, the accompaniment at the lose of the first phrase being furnished by three flutes and eight tenor trombones. The "Sanctus," a tenor solo with responses by the sopanos and altos, is full of poetical, almost sensuous beauty, and is the most popular number in the work. It closes with a fugue on the words ("Hosanna in Exelsis"). The final number is the "Agnus Dei," a chorus for the male voices, in which the composer once more employs the peculiar combination of the flutes and tenor trombones. In this number he also returns to the music of the opening number, "Requiem Aeternan," and closes it with an "Amen," softly dying away.

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See also:
Middle Ages Music
Renaissance Music
Baroque Era Music
Classical Era Music
Romantic Era Music
Nationalist Era Music
Turn of Century Music

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