Friday, June 12, 2009

Hector Berlioz – Requiem (Grande Messe des Morts) (Ainsley-Dutoit-Montreal Symphony Orchestra, 1999)

When I was around 19 or 20 I went through a phase of being totally obsessed with sacred choral music, namely classical composers’ renditions of the Latin Mass. I’m not particularly religious, but there’s something about this kind of stuff that really gets to me: the emotional intensity, the humility, hope and longing simultaneously expressed by so many voices. It somehow makes me feel better about humanity. Among my favourites were Verdi’s Requiem and Mozart’s amazing unfinished Mass in C minor (which you might remember from that famous scene in Amadeus). But for my money, it’s Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des Morts that stands out as the most intense, over-the-top, transcendental work in the genre.

Commissioned by the French government to write a piece in memory of the soldiers killed in the July Revolution of 1830, the flamboyant young composer decided to pull out all the stops and set up as “big” a performance as was humanly possible. Berlioz was among the first composers to put a lot of thought in acoustics, the matching of space and sonority, and wanted the arrangement and orchestration to contribute as much to the overall experiences as the notes that were being sung and played. Knowing that it would be premiered at Les Invalides, the giant-domed cathedral of the military hospital in Paris, his aim here was to create a huge block of three-dimensional sound that would wash over and completely overwhelm the audience. The orchestra and choir were accordingly large. The arrangement calls for roughly 400 performers, including 210 singers, 4 brass enssembles, more than a hundred strings (including 18 double basses), 18 timpanis and two bass drums.
Despite the logistical difficulties of such a large-scale performance (and a bitter, resentful conductor who went out of his way to sabotage the premiere), the Requiem was a resounding success and established itself as the highlight of the composer's patchy (but often brilliant) career.

This is a recording of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Charles Dutoit. It’s probably not the best one out there, and for some reason has a reputation for being a slightly “colder” performance than others. I think it’s pretty good though. But then again, I don’t really know anything about classical music recordings, so what would I know.


  1. Howdy! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this site?
    I'm getting fed up of Wordpress because I've had problems with hackers and I'm looking at options for another platform. I would be awesome if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

    Also visit my weblog ketosis diet

  2. Hey there I am so grateful I found your site, I really found you by error, while I was browsing on Aol for something else, Anyhow I am here
    now and would just like to say thank you for a marvelous post and
    a all round thrilling blog (I also love the theme/design),
    I don't have time to browse it all at the moment but I have bookmarked it and also included your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read a lot more, Please do keep up the great work.

    Here is my website; polnische steuerberater
    Also see my website > internet steuerberater

  3. Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you writing this
    post and the rest of the site is extremely good.

    Here is my web blog ... wordpress hilfe deutsch
    My web site - tipps blog wordpress

  4. First off I would like to say superb blog! I had a quick question
    that I'd like to ask if you do not mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your mind before writing. I have had a tough time clearing my mind in getting my ideas out. I do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or hints? Thanks!

    Look at my web blog wie funktioniert wordpad