Maurice Duruflé: vita e opere Maurice Duruflé, vita e opere

Maurice Duruflé, life and works

The last of the Impressionists

My interest in Maurice Duruflé started by chance a couple of years ago, thanks to a post on Facebook in a group of organ players. I was literally struck by him: in his music I find the perfect synthesis between modernity and tradition.

I dedicate the article to this great contemporary composer (died in 1986) with the desire to deepen his life and his musical legacy.

Maurice Duruflé at Boulevard Saint-Germain.

Summary

  1. Biography

  2. Works

  3. Requiem

  4. Artistic heritage

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Biography

Maurice Duruflé was born in 1902 in Louviers, near Rouen, France.

Maurice’s father was a famous architect and was passionate about music, while his mother was a pianist. From his early age Maurice was a musical prodigy: at 5 he began to study piano and solfeggio and was used to play on the harmonium "by ear" the music he listened in church.

At the age of 10, Maurice joined the school choir and sang at Rouen's Cathedral. Meanwhile, he began to study organ e Gregorian Chant. Duruflé was used to talk about his adolescence as of a very rigid and severe period, where his only relief was music and listening to the great composers from the past.

Notre Dame de Rouen Cathedral.
Notre Dame de Rouen Cathedral.
© Jacques SIERPINSKI

At the end of the school he returned to his native town where he became organist at Notre Dame de Louviers. He began traveling to Paris for private lessons twice a week with Tournemine and then started to study at the Capital's Conservatory. He studied Composition with Charles-Marie Widor and Paul Dukas, Harmony with Jean Gallon, Fugue with Georges Caussade and Organ with Eugène Gigout.

In 1927 he became Organ assistant for Louis Vierne at "Notre-Dame de París" Cathedral, till 1937.

At the Conservatoire Duruflé was anything but brilliant. He performed concerts and recordings as organist for orchestral, choral and solo works. He orchestrated and transcribed the works of other composers, was member on juries and committees in exams and competitions. He won various awards for his piano performances, playing the organ, for improvisations and for composition. He was adored by the musical scene close to him but his attitude was always shy and reserved.

In 1953 Duruflé married Marie-Madeleine Chevalier, a 19 years younger student. The relationship brought into Maurice’s life that joy he had rarely experienced. Marie-Madeleine helped him artistically, socially and professionally.

The couple performed numerous concerts together throughout France, as well as in the rest of Europe and the USA. Marie-Madeleine was also a composer and a teacher, as well as an important organ virtuoso.

Maurice Duruflé and his wife, Marie Madeleine Chevalier.
M. Duruflé and his wife, Marie Madeleine Chevalier.
© Photographersdirect.com

In 1975 the Duruflés were involved in a terrible car accident and were seriously injured. Maurice partially lost the use of both legs and suffered from atrocious pains until the death, which occurred in 1986. The health of Duruflé, already weak, worsened drastically after the accident. Marie-Madeleine took care of her husband for the rest of his life, and after his death he devoted herself to the promotion of his work internationally.

Maurice Duruflé with his wife, Marie Madeleine Chevalier.
Maurice Duruflé with his wife, Marie Madeleine Chevalier.

Works

Duruflé’s musical production was limited probably due to the great attention to detail that he reserved for each work: for this reason many of his compositions took years of revision before being published.

Duruflé’s most famous work is the Requiem, which together with other organ compositions are universally considered as masterpieces from a technical and expressive point of view.

Here you have a list of his works. The list is almost complete (I didn't list the transcriptions). Clicking on the link you can listen a version on Youtube.

Duruflé's scores are not in the public domain, but some of them are available at MuseScore.

Organ solo

Chamber music

Piano solo

  • Triptyque op. 1: Fantaisie sur des thèmes grégoriens (1927/1943, unpublished)
  • Trois Danses op. 6 (1932, piano version by the composer):
    1. Divertissement
    2. Danse lente
    3. Tambourin

Piano 4 hands

  • Trois Danses op. 6 (1932, transcription by the composer):
    1. Divertissement
    2. Danse lente
    3. Tambourin

2 pianos

Orchestra

Choir

Other works

In this list I have omitted the transcripts. The full list can be found at Wikipedia.

Requiem

Duruflé’s Requiem is the best known work of the great French composer and deserves a special mention.

His father’s death in 1945 gave Duruflé the impulse to compose his greatest work, The Requiem. It was published in 1948 and is inspired by the gregorian chants. All nine movements are based on the Missa pro defunctis.

The organ at Louviers Cathedral.
The organ at Louviers Cathedral.

While expecting traditional formal concepts, the Requiem sounds as modern and with fine orchestration.

Artistic heritage

Maurice Duruflé is an atypical musician for the 20th century. Compared to other great composers of his time he always kept a certain distance from the musical jetset.

Despite living in Paris during one of the most chaotic and creative periods of the French capital, he was never involved with fashions. It might be easy to consider him simply as a conservative in a radical world; however this definition would not give credit at all to his artistic depth.

His incredible understanding of harmony, his organ virtuosity and his compositional perfection place him at the level of the greatest masters of the past.

His musical language can be seen as a synthesis between the impressionist tradition of Debussy and Ravel and a modal style of Gregorian inspiration by Fauré.

His organ music is immediately recognizable and of great effect, and Duruflé admirably synthesizes and enriches the French organ tradition.

His artistic exploration of Gregorian chant makes him a pioneer: Duruflé contributed to make known a style that nowadays is a source of continuous inspiration for the composers.

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