Music for All Saints/All Souls Sunday,
November 4, 2018
Written by organist, Patrick Parker
On this Feast of All Souls, Covenant Church presents excerpts from two French masterworks conceived amidst the Second World War: Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem, commissioned by the Nazi-controlled Vichy regime, and Olivier Messiaen’s Les Corp Glorieux (The Glorified Bodies), written before the onset of the war but not published or heard until after (Messiaen himself was a prisoner in a Nazi camp, where he wrote his Quartet for the End of Time). Both of these works portray life and death, evoke hope, and inspire reverence in a musically sensual and symbolic style that continued the Wagner-inspired French Romantic tradition.
Though Duruflé’s Requiem is dedicated to the memory of his father and was constructed as a liturgical work, it was heard by his countrymen in its 1947 debut as a reflection of France’s loss in the war; in fact, all of its earliest performances occurred outside of churches in ceremonies for France’s mourning. The composer had long been seduced by the beauty of the Gregorian chants of the Mass for the Dead, and considered writing a Suite for organ on those themes. However, he decided the melodies could not be separated from their text and wrote a Requiem for choir and organ (later transcribed for choir and orchestra). The debut of the work was over French radio, on 2 November 1947 on the observance of All Souls Day. Duruflé stated “This Requiem is not an ethereal work which sings of detachment from human concerns. It reflects, in the unchanging form of Christian prayer, the anguish of man faced with the mystery of his final end.”
The Requiem begins with the familiar burial chant above the impressionist organ accompaniment. It is followed seamlessly by the “Kyrie eleison,” which employs a contrapuntal style reminiscent of a Renaissance motet. The “Lux Aeterna” movement summons the imagery of the light of heaven; the organ part, featuring the oboe, alternates with a capella choir, finally uniting at the end of the movement. The final movement of the Requiem portrays choirs of angels welcoming the weary soul to Paradise with the familiar chant melodies of the “In Paradisum.”
The organ music for today’s service comes from Messiaen’s Les Corps Glorieux, subtitled ‘seven short visions of the life resurrected,’ written in 1939 and first heard in 1945 in a performance by the composer himself. Messiaen states “the bodies of the resurrected are immortal. They possess four qualities: glory, impassiveness, agility, and subtlety…” The offertory and postlude describe these states. He goes on to state “the qualities of the Glorified Bodies are confirmed in grace,” which is why the prelude describes the waters of grace.
At the prelude, we hear the second movement, translated to “The Waters of Grace.” Its subtitle is ‘for the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall lead them unto living fountains of water (Revelation 7:17). This piece is about the unceasing waves of the river, symbolic of grace, which flows in the celestial city. This movement is conceived orchestrally in three separate voices which intermingle and create a gentle, undulating, liquid quality, veiled, distant, dreamlike.
At the offertory, the fifth movement is played: Strength and Agility of the Glorified Bodies. Its subtitle is ‘Their bodies are sown in weakness; they are raised in power (Corinthians 15:43).’ Messiaen creates the power the scripture denotes through doubling and sometimes tripling octaves of a single melody; he states “vehement and solid, supple and strong: such are the resurrected.”
The service of All Souls concludes with the sixth movement, “Joy and Brightness of the Glorified Bodies,” with the subtext ‘then the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father (St. Matthew 13:43).’ This movement is brilliant and glowing, the main idea here is the alternations of refrain and verse to depict the light and illumination of the resurrected-‘then the righteous shine forth as the sun…’