By Peter Rutenberg
The three names resound like boldly colored brush strokes on a white canvas: Mozart - its Prussian blue suggesting the measured triple dance rhythm of the Kyrie in D Minor, K. 341; Duruflé - a rich, regal purple, curling like vines as the "Cum Jubilo" Mass's chant melodies intertwine; Argento - a medieval red reflecting the cardinal colors of the Te Deum 's mix of ancient texts. Brief and majestic though it may be, Mozart's Kyrie for chorus and orchestra is not without its mystery. It is the second and by far more consequential of two such standalone mass movements, the first (K. 33) having been written in the composer's youth. When exactly it was completed is uncertain, but the eminent scholar H. C. Robbins Landon reasons that it was not as late as suggested by those who have called it an "audition" piece for the post of Kapellmeister at Vienna's St. Stephen's Church, which would have been around 1788. He also disputes its provenance during the stint in Munich in the early 1780s, an argument supported by the inclusion of clarinets which were not available in Salzburg. A third notion places it - together with the two late monuments of Mozart's oeuvre, the "Great" - Minor Mass and the Requiem - in the pile of incomplete works finished by others after his death.
The key of D Minor is a virtual "axiom" in Mozart's music, signifying gravity, tragedy and doom: it is nearly half an hour into his opera Don Giovanni before a different key is heard, and we all know what happens to him! After an introduction of some nine bars, the sopranos lead the Kyrie's choral argument with a brief and recurring suggestion of a repeated psalm-tone. The Christe section, usually set apart, is here co-mingled with the outer Kyrie statements, both words serving in various guises as proclamations and each culminating in a series of cadences on the uniform plea eleison. As in his later symphonies and chamber music, the coming of Romanticism steals gently through the Kyrie's shadows.
At the tender age of 10, Maurice Duruflé's father enrolled him at the great 13th century Cathedral of Rouen, where he would first experience the magnificent pageantry of the Roman Catholic Church, with the ubiquitous sounds of Gregorian Chant that accompanied life at the cathedral. These formative years, coupled with later studies with two great French organists - Charles Tournemire at Sainte-Clothilde and Louis Vierne at Notre-Dame - were to influence Duruflé's compositional style for the rest of his life: to the free-flowing style of chant the young composer would add the stunningly inventive, improvisational skill of Tournemire, and soon thereafter, Vierne's more rigorous application of formal development. The New York-based conductor Dennis Keene has rightly asserted that Duruflé's "greatness" enabled him to integrate both of his masters' expertise, ultimately surpassing them.
Duruflé's Messe "Cum Jubilo," Op. 11 was completed in by Peter Rutenberg 1966 and first performed the following year at the Salle Pleyel in Paris. The work is dedicated to the composer’s wife and musical partner, Marie-Madeleine Duruflé. Scored for a unison choir of men's voices (“choeur de barytons") and orchestra, it is cast in five movements, although not the usual ones. Following the format of a brief mass, the Credo is not set. The Benedictus is treated separately from the Sanctus, with a remarkable "other-worldly" character in its underscore of the solo voice. The Gloria is the broadest and longest in scope, while the Kyrie and Agnus Dei lionize the outer movements. Plainchant melodies from the Gregorian Mass IX "Cum Jubilo" ("With Jubilation") are interwoven throughout with paraphrases spun from the same threads of tunefulness.
In 1987, the Buffalo Schola Cantorum commissioned Dominick Argento to write his Te Deum for the celebration of its fiftieth anniversary and gave the premiere performance. The following year, the work received its Midwest premiere by the Plymouth Music Series of Minnesota, and a few years later, its west coast premiere by the Pacific Chorale. Subsequently, the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Sinfonia Orchestra under Maestro Salamunovich have performed the work twice in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion - once in 1993 and again in 1997 - to both critical acclaim and the highest praise of the composer. The Chorale will record the Te Deum together with the Duruflé Messe "Cum Jubilo" for RCM this fall, for release in late spring of2001.
As the Chorale's longtime program annotator, the late Richard H. Trame, S.J., put it, a varied early life and some study at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore led the "largely self-taught" Argento to an "all-consuming devotion to opera and vocal composition." A position at the University of Minnesota established the composer's base in the Twin Cities where he has spent most of his productive and storied musical life - a locale more conducive to great singing and the contemporary exploration of this field would be hard to imagine!
About his Te Deum (Verba Domini cum verbis populi - "The Word of the Lord with the words of the people"), Dominick Argento has written: "The words, as the subtitle implies, are partly liturgical and partly non-liturgical. Associated with each of the six Latin sections is an anonymous Middle English lyric which either treats the theology of the original text in vivid and popular language or is almost a vernacular paraphrase of the Latin itself. This was done for musical and linguistic variety; the liturgical text seemed to call for a serious and learned treatment throughout - what in Mozart's day used to be termed the 'church style.' In fact, the image of a medieval cathedral seemed inescapable during the composition of the Latin portions. To avoid the monotony of an all-pervading solemnity, the Middle English out-of-doors music provides, as it were, a sometimes lusty and humorous, sometimes pastoral and contemplative commentary, but always to reinforce the faith expressed in the beautiful prayer that the Te Deum is."
Argento's Te Deum is a true masterwork of late twentieth century choral literature. The juxtaposition of sacred prayer and worldly speech, and the inspired music that joins them, yield a sound scape of brilliant colors and arresting textures that flood the soul with a novel yet compelling prospect on humanity.