I was traveling this past week — in fact, I was visiting this big girl:

In case you’re wondering, the statue in her hand is Nike, the goddess of victory, and it (the little statue) is over 6 feet tall. Here’s a closeup of that Amazon’s face:

She’s got some serious cosmetics issues, and she looks annoyed about it.
(10 points if you can identify this gilded lady!)

The trip was delightful, except that my travels forced me to miss the chance to sing Duruflé’s Requiem back at home. I knew the Fauré Requiem, but I’d never sung the Duruflé before this fall, and I was looking forward to it. We sang portions of the Requiem a few weeks ago, but not the “In Paradisum,” which is the conclusion to the piece and one of my favorite movements. We sing in a beautiful Stick Gothic space, which lends itself beautifully to music like this, inspired by plainchant and the early days of polyphony. We sing up in the loft, amid the “sticks,” where all that headroom allows the music room to expand.

One nice thing about singing a Requiem is that, like any sung Mass or like the “Mags and Nuncs” of the Anglican Evensong, the text is essentially the same in any version, taken from the traditional Latin liturgy of the Church. You can consider how each composer works with the set parameters of the text and its rhythms and meanings. I imagine, for a composer, it’s like choosing to write a sonnet instead of free verse; you have a form to work with (and against). This might either frustrate you or impel you to more creative work.

Duruflé seems to have liked having form to build against. He uses much of the traditional Gregorian chant from the Mass for the Dead as the basis for his work. The material he chooses makes the Requiem quiet and meditative, although he offers some quirky and offbeat rhythmic patterning, which can be tricky for singers to learn (or at least it was for me), as in the Sanctus.

You can listen to the “Sanctus” by clicking here.

Singing the “Sanctus” is great fun. It’s also inspiring — literally. It takes huge amounts of breath to sustain that stream of sound, and the music itself is like breathing, the opening and conclusion anyway, broken by the great outcries of “Hosanna!” in the middle. This version (there are three orchestrations) has the organ paired with orchestral accompaniment, so you can enjoy the brass at that moment of glory! We sang it with the organ version, which was, of course, also exciting.

Now, “In Paradisum.” You can listen to it by clicking here.
(This is a version with organ alone. Which do you like better?)

This movement appears at the end because it’s describing the soul’s ascension into heaven, with the words:

In paradisum deducant te Angeli;
in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres,
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem.
Chorus angelorum te suscipiat,
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.
May angels lead you into paradise;
upon your arrival, may the martyrs receive you
and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem.
May the ranks of angels receive you,
and with Lazarus, the poor man, may you have eternal rest.

The beginning of the “In Paradisum” is lovely, of course, though very exposed for the trebles (thank goodness I am not a soprano!).
But truly wonderful things begin to happen at about the 2 minute mark.
And the chord sequence at the end is sublime: beautiful, awe-inspiring, and — because it shows up all our everyday concerns as petty and uninspired — almost frightening in its whispered power and grace. One of the commenters on the youtube page says, “Nothing sounds like God’s shadow like Duruflé.” It’s true. Singing that last page of the Requiem in the midst of the choir and organ, when we reach that final resolution, all the atoms in my body align themselves. I’ve become an organ pipe, hardly vibrating, barely able to hear my own voice or those of my neighbors, just resonating in the lofty space. It’s as though — after a long and exhausting journey, which has jangled my very cells — I’ve come home.