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Requiem in D minor (Cherubini)

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The Requiem No. 2 in D minor for male choir and orchestra was composed in 1834-36 by the Italian composer Luigi Cherubini at the suggestion of the Archbishop of Paris.

Origin

In 1834, the then Archbishop of Paris, Hyacinthe-Louis de Quélen, criticized Cherubini’s first Requiem (Requiem in C minor) because it also called for female voices, and forbade a performance at a funeral mass in Paris. As a result, the already 74-year-old Cherubini composed the Requiem in D minor for male voices only, but it took him two years to complete it on 24 September 1836 in Montlignon.

Reception

The premiere took place again a year and a half later on 25 March 1838 in Paris. Although the first Requiem was a greater success, the second is of no less musical quality and was celebrated – as Cherubini was as a composer during his lifetime – as a great church music creation. At the composer’s request, it was performed at his own funeral service in the spring of 1842. After his death, he and his works were largely forgotten, including this Requiem, which, unlike the Requiem in C minor, is rarely performed today.

Cast

Cherubini chose a classical orchestra for the instrumentation: 1 large flute, 1 piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, 2 timpani and strings.

In keeping with French custom, the choral parts were composed as a three-part male choir, with frequent voice divisions in all three registers often leading to four- or even five-part sections.

Subdivision

  • Introitus et Kyrie: The Introitus is in the key of D minor and begins after a short orchestral introduction with polyphonic sequencing of several short choral themes. The violoncello, rather than the violin, is used as the main instrument. The violin does not make its first appearance until the Dies Irae. A reprise of the first theme is followed by the Kyrie in B flat major, which modulates back to D minor towards the end and ends the choral movement with a plagal closure from G minor to D major. The orchestral finale at the end, on the other hand, modulates back to the home key of D minor.
  • Graduale: The Graduale, which would follow the Epistle in a liturgical performance, begins with a short A minor full cadenza, which is imitated by the choir – a cappella until the end – in A minor and then sequenced once in the parallel key of F major. The chromatic voice-leading familiar to Cherubini is evident in the sequencing themes that follow. The piece ends with a full closure on A major.
  • Dies irae: The through-composed sequence for the dead alternates in the first part between homophonic fortissimo sections, which are kept short and concise, and canonized and imitated polyphonic tone sequences in mezzopiano. From the passage Judex ergo onwards a supposed calm returns, which is broken by the fortissimo of the Rex tremendae, but returns again until fons pietatis. Cherubini shortened the following section by the polytextural method (each voice sings two verses alone at a time) until the short loud Confutatis, which again leads into a quiet section. After the plaintive Lacrimosa, again in D minor, there is a change to D major for the concluding, peaceful-sounding Pie Jesu. As in the Kyrie, however, the key returns to D minor during the orchestral finale.
  • Offertory: The F-major Offertory begins majestically with the invocation of the King of Honours, the Lord Jesus, and moves into a quiet section ornamented with much chromaticism. The sweet-sounding Sed signifer is sung by the tenors alone with the high orchestral voices before the basses launch into the short fast-paced fugue Quam olim Abrahae. Again in larghetto and D minor is the ensuing Hostias et preces, which again features much chromaticism and leads into a soaring C major conclusion. The finale is the reprise of the fugue Quam olim Abrahae, which is extended in the following close lines and united with the chromatic elements of the homophonic parts before. Cherubini’s later influence on Rossini’s tonal language becomes clear here.
  • Sanctus: The solemn Sanctus is in B flat major and is forte to fortissimo throughout at the beginning and towards the end; only the short middle section, Benedictus, is piano. Integral themes are the Hosanna in excelsis cries before the Benedictus and in sequenced form afterwards until the end, as well as the opulently used timpani.
  • Pie Jesu: Pie Jesu, performed in a liturgical performance at the blessing, begins with a short clarinet motif accompanied by woodwinds in G minor, which is processed three times by the choir a cappella; in the breaks between the choruses, the clarinet motif with the woodwind accompaniment is heard again and again. The final chord of the second choral section changes to G major. The third choral section is followed by a brief transition to a fourth development at the word sempiternam. The orchestral ending of the woodwinds takes up the motif once more before ending in unison on G.
  • Agnus Dei: The concluding Agnus Dei is again in the home key of D minor. The Agnus Dei theme is repeated three times in imitation, and each time is followed by the a cappella movement dona eis requiem, varying harmonically each time but returning to the beginning of the theme in D minor. the third choral movement is followed by short sequences of notes with diminished seventh chords, and the bass voices imitate an organ point, while the tenors above it move freely in harmony in three to four voices. A brief rise to the Lux aeterna marks the first climax, which is left again in the Quia pius es. Here the individual choir voices sing a descending melodic sequence in B-flat major, each accompanied by the oboe (tenor I), clarinet (tenor II) or bassoon (bass). The long final note of the basses leads to the final section, in which the basses imitate an organ point on the D and are followed as a canon by the tenors on the A, shifted by two bars; in addition, the orchestral parts move freely around the D organ point. For the choir’s final ascent into the forte of the luceat eis, there is another change to D major before, after the final choral chord ending in unison on D, the orchestra brings the Requiem to a quiet close, returning to D minor.

Literature

  • Cherubini, Luigi: Requiem in D minor for male choir and orchestra, piano reduction by Hugo Ulrich, revised by Rudolf Lück. Published by Edition Peters (No. 51).