The Sound of Perpetual Light by Ken Myers

Column: From Heavenly Harmony

The Sound of Perpetual Light

by Ken Myers

One of the most popular works of twentieth-century sacred choral music is the Requiem by Maurice Duruflé (1902–1986). Completed in 1947 and still performed regularly in concert, Duruflé's Requiem is often linked with the earlier (and probably better known) Requiem by Gabriel Fauré, which dates to 1888. Both works are marked by a comforting, serene spirit, and both reflect the influence of French musical impressionism, which offers a harmonic vocabulary of mystery. But Duruflé's setting is distinguished by its pervasive use of Gregorian chant melodies.

In the opening Introit, after an introductory measure of shimmering (fluttering, like wings?) notes played by the organ (or by strings, in Duruflé's orchestral arrangement), the tenors and basses sing the opening notes of the Gregorian text and melody: Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine: "Give them eternal rest, O Lord." As the phrase ends, sopranos and altos enter, hovering in harmony above the male voices, echoing and thus affirming wordlessly the final notes of the chant. Then the men return to sing the second line: et lux perpetua luceat eis, Domine: "and let perpetual light shine upon them, O Lord."

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Ken Myers is the host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National Public Radio, he also served as editor of Eternity, the Evangelical monthly magazine, and This World, the quarterly predecessor to First Things. He also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church in Ivy, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.

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