Hector Berlioz

Requiem (Grande Messe des morts), for tenor, chorus & orchestra, H. 75 (Op. 5)

    Description by Blair Johnston

    The instrumental forces alone demand that we step back and look at Hector Berlioz Grand Messe des morts, Op. 5 (Requiem) a little differently than we might look at another composition -- even another large-scale, theatrical composition -- from the 1830s: in addition to the usual large orchestra and chorus, Berlioz calls for no fewer than 16 timpani and four extra brass choirs! When the French ministry of the interior commissioned a requiem mass from Berlioz in 1837 and decreed that the conservative conductor Francois-Antoine Habeneck would lead the December 5 first performance of the work, they can hardly have had such a thing in mind (nobody had yet ever even conceived of an instrumentation like that before, certainly not for indoor use); but Berlioz, through all his many ups and downs as a composer, was never one to suppress his fiery sense of the dramatic (as fiery as his bright red hair, so the stories go), and, in the end, even Habeneck -- who, according to a not impartial Berlioz, tried his best to ruin the Requiem's premiere -- had to admire the spark of genius and the sheer spunk that it took to put that thing on paper. Today the Requiem is Berlioz's second-most famous work, behind the Symphony Fantastique, though, as one might imagine from its performance requirements, it is not his second-most frequent visitor to the concerthall (or the cathedral, as the case might be).

    Berlioz's Grand Messe des morts, scored for orchestra, tenor soloist, and SSTTBB chorus plus the extra forces listed above, is in ten sections and runs in excess of an hour and a quarter. Not all of its music is massive (the extra forces explode onto the scene in the Tuba mirum portion of the Dies irae sequence in No. 2 and then disappear), and indeed much of it is quite intimate -- for example the slender No. 3 Quid sum miser, which immediately follows the outburst in No. 2, or the opening of No. 9 Sanctus, which features the solo tenor. And the Requiem ends in absolute tenderness, the Lamb of God (No. 10 Agnus Dei) having taken away the sins of the world and accepted the dead into a new world, of which we mortals can hear only vague echoes -- timpani strokes left over from the explosive Last Judgment held earlier in the mass, now distant and gentle.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Requiem aeternam
    2. Kyrie
    3. Dies irae. Prosa
    4. Tuba mirum
    5. Quid sum miser
    6. Rex tremendae
    7. Quaerens me
    8. Lacrymosa
    9. Offertorium. Domine Jesu Christe
    10. Hostias et preces
    11. Sanctus / Hosanna in excelsis / Sanctus / Hosanna in excelsis
    12. Agnus Dei

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2019 Warner Classics 9029561444
    2018 Chandos CHSA 5219
    2018 Seattle Symphony SSM 1019
    2017 Hampton Roads Classics 011
    2017 Warner Classics 560476
    2017 Warner Classics 0190295886738
    2017 SWR Music SWR 19028 CD
    2016 RCA Red Seal 88875169792
    2013 Decca
    2013 LSO Live LSO 0729
    2013 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 13032
    2013 Decca
    2013 Decca 4785601
    2012 ICA Classics ICAC 5075
    2011 Signum Classics / Signum UK SIGCD 280
    2011 Brilliant Classics 93946
    2010 Decca
    2010 Decca
    2009 EMI Classics 64299
    2009 EMI Classics
    2009 Decca 4781746
    2008 Pentatone Classics 5186191
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 4777561
    2007 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH07014
    2006 Haenssler 93131
    2006 Universal Distribution
    2005 RCA Red Seal 66373
    2005 Silverline Records 284205
    2005 Oehms 906
    2004 Telarc Distribution 60627
    2004 Telarc Distribution 80627
    2004 Classic Records / Classic Records 2012
    2004 Artemis Classics 1506
    2004 Silverline Records 288236
    2004 RCA 60393
    2003 Philips 000157302
    2003 Gothic Records 49212
    2003 Brilliant 99999
    2003 Deutsche Grammophon 474 440-2
    2002 Vanguard 507/508
    2001 Boheme Music 909101
    2000 BBC Legends / BBC Music 44032
    2000 Orfeo D'Or 457971
    2000 Decca 458921
    1999 Arkadia 78558
    1999 BBC Legends / BBC Music 40112
    1999 Malibran Music 107
    1999 Naxos 8 554494/5
    1998 Philips 462252
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 569647
    1997 Sony Music Distribution 62659
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 695122A
    1996 RCA 68444
    1994 Walsingham 8000
    1994 RCA 62544
    1993 Denon Records 73205
    1993 Kontrapunkt 32143
    1992 Sony Music Distribution S2K-47526
    1992 Deutsche Grammophon 429724
    1990 Telarc Distribution 80109
    1985 Philips 416283
    Arkadia 4121
    EMI Music Distribution 47540
    Esoldun 1001
    Forlane 16639
    Philips 000724902
    Philips 464689
    Vanguard 0100
    Ades 20373
    Decca 4782036