Maurice Duruflé’s “Four Motets on Gregorian Themes”: An Excerpt from the Houston Chamber Choir’s New Recording

Here is another brief excerpt from a Grammy nominated recording we sampled last month. It comes from the album, Duruflé: Complete Choral Works, released last April. The Houston Chamber Choir is led by its artistic director and founder Robert Simpson.

The serene, timeless sounds of Gregorian chant emerge throughout the music of the twentieth century French composer and organist Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986). In Quatre Motets sur des thèmes grégoriens (“Four motets on Gregorian themes”), written in 1960, echoes of early polyphony meet dreamy impressionism. As with Duruflé’s Requiem, a childlike innocence pervades the music.

The second Motet, Tota pulchra es (“You are completely beautiful”) is a prayer to the Virgin Mary. It’s filled with sudden harmonic surprises which give us a sense of the ephemeral.

Two Additional Settings

It’s interesting to hear the way other composers have approached this text. Anton Bruckner’s setting is a solemn yet majestic and harmonically adventurous antiphon. Bruckner’s symphonies contain occasional moments of silence. Perhaps these moments grow out of similar reflective pauses we hear in the composer’s sacred works.

The same words form the Offertorium of Robert Schumann’s relatively obscure Mass in C minor, Op. 142. This music wanders into the strange world of autumnal lament we hear in the composer’s other late works. The mezzo-soprano solo enters into a hazy, dreamlike conversation with the solo cello.

Recordings

  • Duruflé: Complete Choral Works, Houston Chamber Choir, Robert Simpson, Ken Cowan houstonchamberchoir.org
  • The Houston Chamber Choir’s complete discography
  • Bruckner: Tota pulchra es, Maria, antiphon in Phrygian mode for tenor, chorus & organ, WAB 46, The Sixteen, Harry Christophers Amazon
  • Schumann: Missa Sacra, Les Cris de Paris, Baptiste Lopez, Marianne Crebassa and Geoffroy Jourdain Amazon

Photograph: Le Grand Canal, Claude Monet, 1908

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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