Duruflé, Honegger, Debussy & Poulenc

March 31, 1979, 08:30 PM
Roger Wagner, Conductor
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Trios Danses Op. 6 Maurice Duruflé
La Danse des Morts Arthur Honegger
Darlene Romano , Soprano
Nancy O'Brien , Contralto
David Romano , Tenor
Salut Printemps Claude-Achille Debussy
Darlene Romano , Soprano
Women of the Master Chorale , Choir
Invocation Claude-Achille Debussy
Byron Wright , Tenor
Men of the Master Chorale , Choir
Gloria Francis Poulenc
Darlene Romano , Soprano


Maurice Duruflé, born January 11, 1902, at Louviers (Eure], was a pupil from 1912 to 1918 of Jules Haeling, director of the Rauen Cathedral choirschool. Paul Paray, to whom he dedicated the Trois Danses heard this evening, was a fellow alumnus of this same Rauen choirschool. From 1920 to 1928 Duruflé studied at the Paris Conservatoire with such celebrities as Louis Vierne, Charles Tournemire, and Paul Dukas. In 1930 he became organist of Saint-Etiennedu-Mont Church at Paris and in 1943 harmony professor in the Conservatoire. With his wife Marie-Madeleine Chevalier - like him an organist - he toured the United States in June 1964, November 1965, October - November 1966, and October -December 1971. During the latter visit he conducted his Requiem, Op. 9 (1948), at the First Congregational Church in Los Angeles with a chorus of 150 voices that he praised extravagantly ("Nouvelle tournee aux U.S.A. Souvenirs," L'Orgue, No. 141 [January-March 1972), 33). He also lauded the 91-rank, 4-manual Schlicker in that church as a marvel.
Gwilym Beechey began his article, "The Music of Maurice Duruflé," Music Review, XXXII/2 (May, 1971) 146, with the apt remark that he "is the most reticent and self-effacing composer of our day." To date his only work originally published for orchestra remains his superbly evocative tableau, Trois Danses, Op. 9 (Durand, 1939). Composed in 1936, this work - consisting of Divertissement, Danse lente, and Tambourin - is his "most extrovert and uninhibited piece." The orchestra  includes everything from triple woodwind and alto saxophone to a percussion section requiring six players in addition to tympanist. Despite being his first and thus far sole purely orchestral work, he scores throughout with the skill of such veteran orchestral conjurers as Ravel and Dukas. Never sledgehammer in his dynamics indications, Duruflé ends the first two movements ppp and the last p.
So far as form goes, the Divertissement begins and ends with a contemplative Andante. The main body consists of three scherzo-like refrains in fast 3/8 interspersed with two cantabile interludes. The second danse - which begins and ends with a pedal point distributed among harp and cello harmonics - inhabits chiefly the key of B flat minor (Duruflé has always liked keys with five or six accidentals in the signature). An elegiac discourse between solo wind instruments and pizzicato strings, with occasional whiffs of fingered tremolo, leads to a climax of heroic grandeur towering near the conclusion. Tambourin begins with the bassoon playing the buffoon. His perky tune is soon bandied by the other instruments. Next erupts a tutti during which triumphant brass players transform a theme, heard near the outset of the Divertissement, into a fanfare. In quick succession, alto saxophone sings the cantabile theme from the first interlude of the Divertissement. In each recurrence in Tambourin, Duruflé cleverly alters the rhythmic garb worn by the themes in the Divertissement. Superbly orchestrated and masterfully constructed, all three danses testify to a genius for melodic and harmonic invention that invariably captivates the large public.
Roger Wagner, Duruflé's close friend, won great acclaim for Trois Danses at the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra concert pair conducted by him March 4-5, 1974, in Phoenix Symphony Hall. He has conducted the Duruflé Requiem 150 times since 1966, when he conducted it in Paris. This evening's performance marks the first time that the Sinfonia Orchestra has given a West Coast instrumental premiere under his direction.
Still a student in the Paris Conservatoire - but old enough to be the lover of a married woman, Mme Vasnier - Debussy was nearing 20 when in May 1882 he composed his graceful Printemps for three-part female chorus and orchestra (published in piano reduction with the title Salut printemps - "Welcome Spring," in May 1928) and on the verge of 21 when between May 5 and 11, 1883, he composed his brooding Invocation for four-part male chorus and orchestra (published in 1928). Both were trial pieces written to qualify him for the Rome Prize competition. The texts, imposed by the Rome Prize jury, were respectively by Napoleon's grand master of ceremonies, the count Louis-Philippe de Segur (1753- 1830), and by the sometime rival of Victor Hugo for poetic fame, Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869).
Later, after his style veered from the smoothness of Massenet, Debussy himself set the fashion of disdaining his youthful creative efforts. For an example, it was he who in a letter dated April 21, 1904, dismissed his now universally popular Reverie for piano as an "unimportant piece, quickly thrown off to please the 'publisher; in two words: bad music." But the wide public disagreed with Debussy’s self-abasement when "My Reverie" (with words adapted by Larry Clinton) gained the Number One spot on the Hit Parade November 12, 1938, and stayed there to January 7, 1939.
Debussy's 1883 Printemps was renamed Salut printemps when premiered April 2, 1928, at the Salle Pleyel in Paris. The new title, based on the first line of the poem ("Hail Spring, season of youth"), served to distinguish the 1882 Printemps from two other Debussy choral works of the 1880s also called "Spring": (1) the still unpublished Le Printemps for mixed chorus and orchestra, text by Jules Barbier, composed between May 10-16, 1884; and (2) Printemps for orchestra, piano, and wordless chorus composed at Rome in February of 1887 (first published as a supplement to Revue musicale in 1904; premiered in revised form April 18, 1913, at the Salle Gaveau). So far as the 1882 "Spring" is concerned, it prefigures Debussy's later fondness for modulations a third from the home key. The middle section of the tripartite structure is in F sharp, and he remains in this remote key from the home key of A at the reprise of the first subject. An informed musicologist discussing Debussy's earliest works in a Swedish journal (Svensk tidskrift for musikforskning, xliv (1962), 33) rated Salut printemps for SSA and orchestra with harps (but sans trombones and percussion) as the most "personal" work of his youth. Here were the reasons: the economical treatment of the orchestra; the arabesque, especially in certain melodic passages for “instruments; the modulatory scheme.
Lamartine's poem prescribed by the Rome Prize jury in 1883 is a sursum corda - inviting man to lift up his spirit and to make contact with the Eternal, whence flows all blessings. In an article on the "unknown Debussy" (Musical Times, cxiv (1973), 885) John Trevitt called Debussy's setting for male chorus of Invocation "a beautiful work whose opening - 'Eievez-vous' voix de mon ame' (lamartine) - bears a striking resemblance to that of Mahler's First Symphony." True to his fondness for tertian relationships, Debussy modulates from G to B for the tenor solo that forms the central panel of his triptych. After a false reprise in B flat, the tutti men's chorus reenters triumphantly with a fortissimo hymnlike version of the subject given out pianissimo at first entry.
Shortly after Debussy died, Henri Collet heralded a new movement in French music - Les Six (article in Comoedia illustre, vii/5 [March 15, 1920]). Three of Les Six petered out. However, Collet's expectations were fully justified by the brilliant careers of the other three, Arthur Honegger (born at le Havre, March 11, 1892; died at Paris November 27, 1955), Darius Milhaud (1892-1974), and Francis Poulenc (January 7, 1899 at Paris, where he died January 30, 1963). Although Honegger collaborated with four of Les Six in the "scandalous" ballet Les Maries de Ia Tour Eiffel (hunchback spying on newlyweds) with scenario by Jean Cocteau, which was produced June 18, 1921, he withdrew from the circle of Cocteau and Erik Satie to establish more direct contacts with the large concert-going public when he composed his hugely successful Le Roi David (King David). At its premiere as a "dramatic psalm" (June 11, 1921, Mezieres near Lausanne, Switzerland), the orchestra consisted of a mere eleven players supporting a chorus of 100. For its triumphal Parisian premiere March 14, 1924, Le Roi David was rewritten to include a narrator and full orchestra. Henceforth hailed the world over as one of the few significant oratorios of this century,
the 1924 version is imbued throughout "with a sincerity and a contagious passion that none can resist." ,
Honegger again created a sensationally successful choral masterpiece when he wrote Jeanne d'Arc au Bûcher (Joan of Arc at the stake). Premiered at Basel as a "dramatic oratorio" May 12, 1938 - text by the dean of French diplomats and poets, Paul Claudel (1868-1955) - this masterpiece was a dozen years later transformed into an opera.
Again levying Claudel for the text of his Danse des Morts, Honegger completed his "Dance of the Dead" (the third of his great choral successes) October 25, 1938. Drafted in seven sections, Danse des Morts quotes the Gregorian Dies irae subject only once - in the second section when the specters' dance reaches its most frenetic. In his autobiographical Je suis compositeur (I am a composer, English edition, page 99) Honegger called Section 3 (Lamento) the section among the seven for which he had the tenderest feelings because the "realization was not too far from the design I had in mind." In it the baritone soloist implores God's mercy because man is dust.
Section 4 sets the Latin of Job 10:21-22, in which the stricken servant of God begs for some belated comfort "before I go ' whence I shall not return, to the land of gloom and deep darkness, the land of gloom and chaos, where light is as darkness." During these sobs (Sanglots is the title of Section 4) the enemy laughs in derision. In Section 6 God responds. Here the music accompanying the reciter echoes the instrumental prelude to Section 1 while Claudel's recited text conjures the Vision of Israel's Dry Bones brought again to life (Ezekiel 37). All the more prophetic nowadays seem Claudel's images because in 1938 when Honegger composed his Danse des Morts, the reborn State of Israel yet remained a decade in the future. Honegger's "Dance of the Dead" dons even more contemporary garb when in Section 6 the chorus continues with this prophecy: "I will reassemble the children of Israel from all lands and make of them one nation, and they will no longer be divided asunder. I will redeem and sanctify them. I will make a new covenant and alliance with them as sturdy as stone. My sanctuary shall be in their midst and they shall be my people." At the climax of Section 6 the combined unison chorus repeats in Latin God's promise to Israel. Section 7 continues with a further affirmation of God's purpose, foreordained through all ages.
The stylistic traits deemed typical of Honegger's whole choral output by the Cornell professor William Austin (Music in the 20th century, 1966, page 475) are well illustrated in the Danse des Morts. "Accented syllables are often short, producing a kind of emphasis very surprising to listeners familiar with the French language." As a result, Austin found Honegger's vocal lines "more like ordinary speech than Schoenberg's Sprechstimme." He also called attention to Honegger's fondness for ostinatos in the accompaniments, his flair for modulations that connect passages otherwise disjunct, and his genius for structures not encumbered with tedious reprises.
Unlike Honegger (who fathered a son by Claire Croiza, the singer who created the title role in his second oratorio Judith, before marrying in 1927 Andree Vaurabourg, the pianist who premiered his Concertina and other piano works) Francis Poulenc never married. Also unlike Honegger, son of a coffee importer who was not a rich man, Poulenc was sufficiently wealthy by inheritance never to have to grub money with the numerous film scores that were Honegger's bread and butter. Already at 18, Poulenc seized adolescent fame with such persiflage as a Rapsodie negre (December 11, 1917) for baritone, piano, flute, clarinet, and string quartet. In five movements, this hoax set nonsense verse by a Parisian posing as a Negro from Liberia. But his lighthearted Trois Mouvements perpetuels premiered in 1919 by Ricardo Viñes and all other such youthful badinage completely failed to presage the depth and profundity of the choral masterpieces that began in 1937 with his a cappella Mass in G, continued in 1943 with Figure Humaine for double a cappella choir written during the darkest hours of the occupation, in 1950 with his Stabat Mater for soprano, five-part mixed choir and orchestra, and that culminated in 1960 with his Gloria for soprano solo, mixed choir, and orchestra. Commissioned by the Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress, his Gloria was premiered January 20, 1961, by the Boston Symphony Orchestra directed by Charles Munch.
The six divisions allocate the traditional text from the Mass quite differently from the twelve sections into which Vivaldi divided the same text. Poulenc's I combines the text for i and ii of Vivaldi's Gloria in D for 2 sopranos and chorus (RV 589), his II combines Vivaldi's iii-v, his V combines Vivaldi's iii-ix, his VI equals Vivaldi's x-xii. The emotion that both composers captured up through glorificamus te is rightly jubilant. Both turn solemn for Gratias agimus tibi ("we give thanks to thee"); both revert to fast music for propter magnam gloriam ("on account of thy great glory"); both make the Domine Deus the vehicle for a soprano solo in slow tempo; both spring back to bright, brisk choral music at Domine Fili unigenite. Where the moods evoked by these two Glorias of Vivaldi and Poulenc greatly differ is at the close. Vivaldi's Cum Sancto Spiritu is a bustling double fugue in square 4/2 meter. Poulenc 230 years later will have nothing to do with such a contrapuntal device. Instead, he closes with a reference to miserere nobis. The harp and ppp fingered string tremolos envelop the soloist and muted chorus. Next comes a mere passing mention of the Holy Spirit. Poulenc then allows the chorus, soprano soloist, and divisi strings to float heavenward in ethereal pianissimi at the final Amen.
Poulenc's memorable melodies, his colorful harmonies, his ingenious orchestration and his consummate architectural instinct combine to make his Gloria one of the supremely satisfying works of the 20th-century choral literature. In this final testament he reaches the apex of his achievement. Now at last light years removed from his early insouciance, Poulenc in his Gloria converses with the sublime. Like Enoch he walks with God.

Track Name Listen
Trois Danses: Divertissement 19790331-01.mp3
Trois Danses: Danse Lente 19790331-02.mp3
Trois Danses: Tambourin 19790331-03.mp3
La Danse des Morts: Dialogue 19790331-04.mp3
La Danse des Morts: Danse des Morts 19790331-05.mp3
La Danse des Morts: Lamento 19790331-06.mp3
La Danse des Morts: Sanglots 19790331-07.mp3
La Danse des Morts: La Réponse de Dieu 19790331-08.mp3
La Danse des Morts: Espérance dans la Croix 19790331-09.mp3
La Danse des Morts: Affirmation 19790331-10.mp3
Salut Printemps 19790331-11.mp3
Invocation 19790331-12.mp3
Gloria: Gloria 19790331-13.mp3
Gloria: Laudamus Te 19790331-14.mp3
Gloria: Domine Deus 19790331-15.mp3
Gloria: Domine Fili Unigenite 19790331-16.mp3
Gloria: Domine Deus, Agnus Dei 19790331-17.mp3
Gloria: Qui Sedes Ad Dexteram Patris 19790331-18.mp3
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