"Requiem" by of Hector Berlioz in the museum Sound Library

Today is the 218th birthday of the French composer, conductor, writer and publicist of the Romanticism period Hector Berlioz. To mark the composer birthday, we posted the digitized recording* of  “Requiem” (opus 5), written by Hector Berlioz in 1837. This is one of the composer most passionate works. “Requiem” was written to traditional Latin text, with minor changes made by the composer himself. The composition is performed by the choir under the baton of Emile Passani, conductor Jean Fournet. Cast of performers: tenor, choir (210 people), orchestra, 4 brass orchestras backstage. The work consists of 10 parts.

“Requiem” is one of the mainstream works by Berlioz, created to memorize the July Revolution heroes. The "Requiem" by Berlioz, a convinced atheist, is differs greatly from Catholic funeral masses. Berlioz emphasizes not so much the philosophical meaning as the emotional and dramatic features of the liturgical text. He consistently reveals the diversity of deep human passions - fear, hope, mortification, prayer, joy, courage and faith. The music of "Requiem" is unique in its authentic beauty. It is based on grandiose contrasts of sound accumulation, powerful crescendo. The mightiness of gothic forms, tremendous power of sound, brilliant decorativeness are combined with the subtlety of details, and the melodic singularity and orchestration is combined with the widest comprehensibility.

Berlioz managed to create a work that harmoniously merged powerful civic pathos with touching lyrics. Its monumentality and brilliance are striking, requiring an orchestra of the unusual size and composition. A huge number of drums: 8 timpani, 2 large drums, 4 tom-toms, 10 pairs of cymbals. An incredible amount of brass instruments is included in 4 backstage orchestras - 4 cornet, 4 trombones, 2 tuba in the first; 4 trumpets and 4 trombones in the second and third; in the fourth, 4 more ophicleides* are added to them. Performers on strings - 108 people, 18 of them on double basses; 210 persons in the choir. The detailed, large-scale parts were written for the choir only; there are no arias or ensembles. Thus, for all the picturesqueness and dramatic tension, “Requiem” is very far from operatic genre. There are no melodious, soulful tunes in it, but there are many angular, chromatic vocal themes, often one-note recitation is used, similar to a barely audible prayer in a whisper.

All these features are concentrated in the 1st movement, Requiem et Kyrie (Eternal rest and Lord have mercy), where muted chromatic themes undergo complex polyphonic development. Movement 2, Dies irae (Day will appear in wrathful power), a grandiose fresco of the Last Judgment, begins quietly and dispassionately, with a rollover of monophonic themes from the orchestra and female choir (soprano only), until the calm explodes with a storm of chromatic passages. The second section, Tuba mirum (Trumpet will blow us with a ringing sound), is the most picturesque and distinctive: 4 brass instruments orchestras at different ends of the hall form, according to the author's definition, a “sound stream”, filling the entire space; angry exclamations of bass in unison are accompanied by beats of a big drum, then - tom-toms and cymbals. 4 orchestras also sound in the 6th movement, Lacrimosa (Tearful this day will come), the most developed and contrasting: a quiet supplication, a bright hope resist the formidable storms. Unusual is the 7th movement, Offertory (Offering of Gifts), to which Berlioz gives the subtitle "Chorus of Souls of Purgatory": a decent theme canonically developed by the strings, and the choir endlessly repeats two words of the prayer Domine Jesu (Lord God Christ) in unison; this sigh of everlasting agony dies down at the end, in a barely audible piano-pianissimo. The interpretation of the 9th movement, Sanctus (Holy), is also unusual - the most lyrical, enlightened, pure - the tenor soloist, who sings mainly in the upper register, is answered “very gently” (author's remark) by a three-part female choir.

* Digitized from “Columbia” gramophone records
** Ophicleide (fr. Ophicléide, from the Greek "snake" and the Greek "bolt, key") is a brass musical instrument from the Klappenhorn family that looks like a bassoon. Now it is out of use.

Ref. A. Konigsberg. Belcanto.ru