Duruflé: Reflections and a Playlist

Maurice Duruflé, 1902-1986

I’m fascinated by the way certain composers have a sound all their own; when, even across different pieces of music, there’s an essence we can perceive.

One such composer is Maurice Duruflé, whose one-of-a-kind Requiem will be featured on our May 7th concert, Shout for Joy

This brilliantly-crafted piece is perfectly suited to the magnificent space at the Princeton University Chapel. I can’t wait to fill it with sound.

In the meantime, I’ve put together a playlist of music by Duruflé so you can start to immerse yourself in its sound world.


Princeton University Chapel

A bit of what I hear in his music

In part because he spent his formative years deeply immersed in the activity at the cathedral of Rouen, Duruflé’s music evokes the ancient ambience of the Church—of mystical liturgies carried on the supple contours of the Gregorian chants filling the cavernous, perfumed interiors of its Gothic cathedrals. Whether sung note-for-note by the choir, presented as a cantus firmus by an orchestra or a rank of the organ, or merely implied, ancient plainchant melodies guide nearly all of his compositions. Duruflé brilliantly bends all musical parameters towards their essential qualities, taking great care, for instance, to “reconcile … the Gregorian rhythms … with the demands of modern meters,” so that the flowing quality of chant suffuses the whole.

Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, France

But it’s not just his mastery of those melodies

Just as waves of light passing through the prismatic glass of Sainte-Chapelle or bouncing off the opalescent oils on Monet’s canvases refract into dazzling arrays, the waves of sound created by performances of Duruflé’s scores reflect a rich palette of harmonic colors. The modal harmonies arising from the plainchant foundation, lacking strong leading-tone tendencies, allow sonorities to shift kaleidoscopically, one into another, unresolved. Duruflé blends brilliant organ registrations and imaginative scoring for strings and harp and voices into all sorts of shades and timbres. No other composer takes such ancient materials and presents them in such a beautifully modern way.

by Ryan J. Brandau, Artistic Director

Click for tickets to Shout for Joy


Duruflé playlist: