We are excited to announce the paperback release of James E. Frazier’s acclaimed Maurice Duruflé: The Man and His Music. Praised by Lawrence Archbold from the American Organist as “a work of unprecedented scope and depth, . . . [Frazier’s book] is a biography abundantly rich in detail . . . [and one that] will no doubt stand as a defining work in Duruflé scholarship and nurture scholars of 20th-century French organ music for years to come.” Our thanks to Dr. Frazier for sharing a few words about Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem, Op. 9 for Proofed.
The relative ubiquity of Maurice Duruflé’s music in churches, especially in English-speaking countries, is proof enough that it has an enduring audience despite the fact that there are only about a dozen pieces in his oeuvre, and that many of these are rarely performed. Probably his most enthusiastic audience is the company of organists who have found his stunning organ works both demanding and rewarding to perform. But along with these are the thousands of singers who have found riches beyond measure in his beloved Requiem. Nonetheless, his stellar Prélude, récitatif et variations, for piano, viola, and flute, is a tribute worthy of Maurice Ravel though it is seldom performed. Likewise, his Trois Danses, for orchestra, is rarely heard, as is his Notre Père, a brief liturgical piece, while his opus 1 has never been heard by the public.
Duruflé’s stature is monumental, and the depth of his expression profound, despite his small output, as they reflect his introversion and private persona. But at least as interesting as what he had to say musically is what he never mentioned in public. Duruflé said that he wrote his Requiem in memory of his father. While that is doubtless true, he was also commissioned to write the work by the Nazi government situated in Vichy, France, during the beginning of the Second World War. The fact of the commission was discovered by the American musicologist Leslie A. Sprout and is detailed in her doctoral dissertation, “Music for a ‘New Era’: Composers and National Identity in France, 1936-1946.” The Vichy administration had established a program of commissions whereby composers would write works respectful of national traditions and deferential to French culture. Of the large number of commissioned works thus composed by traditional composers, only Duruflé’s Requiem continues to be performed regularly to this day.
And indeed, as described by Henriette Roget in Les Letres françaises,
The work of Maurice Duruflé pertains no more to tomorrow than to today or yesterday: it bears a permanent character which is communicated by the immutability of the faith that enlivens it. Constructed by pious hands, this score is outside of time. Inspired by the Gregorian, it is the expression of a belief rather than the voice of a man.
If the Requiems of Mozart, Berlioz, or Fauré instruct us very exactly on the state of soul of their authors in the face of death, if the Requiem of Verdi is the cry of a people at a specific era, Duruflé’s Mass brings a great peace, an absolute serenity, as anonymous as the collective impetus to which we owe our cathedrals….
This guest post was written by James E. Frazier. He holds advanced degrees in philosophy, organ, theology, and sacred music from St. Alphonsus College, Mt. St. Alphonsus Seminary, Hartt School of Music, the Yale University Divinity School, and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. He served Episcopal churches in Hartford, Connecticut, and St. Paul, Minnesota, as organist and director of music. For ten years he was director of music for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.