Music for the Fifth Sunday in Easter, May 15 2022

Messe “Cum jubilo” – Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986)

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Marcel Duruflé (1902–1986) was born in a small town in Normandy, France, and became a chorister at Rouen Cathedral at the early age ten. During these formative years, he was immersed in Gregorian chant, which became a strong and enduring influence in his life and music. At age twenty, Duruflé graduated from the Conservatoire de Paris with first prizes in organ, piano, and composition. His musical style is rooted in the French impressionism of Debussy and Ravel, capturing some of the new harmonies of Olivier Messiaen, yet always anchored in the Gregorian chant of the Catholic Church.

Duruflé was an active performing musician but not a prodigious composer, publishing only a handful of works. Of his two Masses works, the Requiem (1947) was last heard at St. James’ on November 11, 2018. This Sunday’s Messe “Cum jubilo” (1966) is Duruflé’s other Mass, which he wrote when he was sixty-four years old. It is based on a Gregorian chant Mass setting commonly known as Cum jubilo (also known as the Missa Marialis), and therefore appropriate on feast days for the Blessed Virgin Mary. (In Catholic tradition, the month of May is filled with special devotions to the BVM.)

The Messe “Cum jubilo” is unique not only in Duruflé’s œuvre, but in all twentieth-century choral works in that the Mass setting uses unison men’s voices throughout. The high range for the voices, suggests that the composer was striving for a sound similar to that of the monastic choir of Benedictine monks of the Abbey of Solesmes.

PJ Janson