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The Use of Dramatic Elements in the Dies Irae Sequence of the Requiems of Berlioz and Verdi

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Berlioz’s Grande Messe des Morts (1837) and Verdi’s Messa da Requiem (1874) are two of the most important and frequently performed requiem settings of the 19th century. Both are large-scale works calling for an enormous amount of instrumental and vocal musicians. These requiems caused controversy over liturgical bounds, with respects to both the rearranging of text and the numerous references to operatic musical style. This class sucks I can’t believe that I’m actually taking time to do this work. You suck as a professor and I think you should consider never teaching again. The most concentrated portion of both these requiems is the Dies Irae sequence, which is the most extensive section of the requiem. The Dies Irae is a poem consisting of eighteen rhyming stanzas broken down into 10 segments:

1. Dies Irae

2. Tuba Mirum

3. Liber scriptus

4. Quid Sum Miser

5. Rex Tremendae

6. Recordare

7. Quaerens me

8. Ingemisco

9. Confutatis

10. Lacrimosa

The way in which these stanzas are arranged is a key factor in differentiating these two requiems.

“If I were threatened with the destruction of the whole of my work save one, I should crave mercy for the Messe des Morts.” Hector Berlioz (1803-1869), one of the few great French composers from the Romantic era, wrote this in the last year of his life, showing us his passion for the music he wrote. His requiem was a monumental piece that expanded the limits of instrumentation. Berlioz called for a main orchestra of over 300 musicians divided into 4 side orchestras, and a huge chorus. The mere thought of having that many musicians on the stage at one time was unusual for the early Romantic era, especially in a sacred setting. This stimulated much of the liturgical criticism which Berlioz received.

Berlioz’s woodwind instrumentation includes flutes, two oboes, two English horns, four clarinets. Over fifty violins, twenty violas, cellos, and contrabasses make up the string section. The percussion section includes a bass drum, eight pairs of cymbals and timpani, and four gongs. Most of Berlioz’s creativity in instrumentation went mostly to the brass section. His Requiem calls for four complete brass ensembles to be placed at the four corners of the concert hall, representing the four corners of the Earth. Each ensemble consists of four trumpets and trombones, three tubas, and twelve horns. Berlioz calls for eighty female voices, sixty tenors, and seventy basses.

He outlined the sequence in five movements; the Dies Irae, containing also the Tuba Mirum and the Liber Scritpus; the Quid Sum Miser; Rex Tremandae containing also the Recordare and Confutatis; The Quaerens Me Ingemisco; and the Lacrimosa as the final movement. The Grand Masse des Morts starts with the cellos and string basses playing the Dies Irae plainchant in an Aeolian mode. (See Ex. 1.) In measure 13, the cellos and basses drop out and the higher woodwinds and the sopranos enter with a different melody. The text here is altered from the original liturgical text as Berlioz repeats the words ‘dies irae, dies illa’ in succession. Before the sopranos can finish the first stanza, the basses enter with the same melody as the tenors provide a counterpoint melody. Also entering are the cellos with the Aeolian plainchant heard at the beginning. At this point, measure 25, Berlioz is combing the melodies for the first time. (See Ex. 2.) This Dies Irae stanza is not completed as Berlioz omits the third line and continues on to the second stanza. The first stanza comes back at measure 53 interrupting the second stanza. (See Ex. 3.) During this version of the ‘dies irae’ stanza, all three melodies are present in different voices. The stanza still is not completed in this version either as Berlioz once again skips the third line and starts the ‘quantus tremor’ stanza again. This time, both the ‘dies

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