Duruflé: Requiem and Parry: Songs of Farewell

Today, Sunday 29 March, I would normally be at St Michael’s in Lewes by now, preparing to play for the 10.30 Mass. Also today, the Brighton Singers (I’m the MD) were going to perform at St Nicholas Brighton (just up from the clock tower on North Street). The programme was the Duruflé: Requiem with Andrew Robinson (baritone) and Briony Lambert (mezzo-sop) and my London-based friend, Iestyn Evans playing the very challenging organ accompaniment. That’s a wonderful piece based on the Gregorian chants for the Missa pro defunctis or Mass of the dead. A lot of the vocal lines in Duruflé’s setting are lifted directly from these plainsong melodies. Have a look at the Wiki page Music for the Requiem mass and you will see the opening 2 bars of the Requiem aeternam written in old script. The notes are square because they would have been written with a square-nibbed quill pen. And don’t be put off by the 4 line stave! Middle C is indicated at the start on the top line, so the plainsong melody starts on F, a 5th below. You might have a go at working out how this melody sounds from this old script – good luck. Then have a listen (and look) at this Youtube performance of Duruflé’s setting. On this version, you can follow that same melody sung by the tenors and basses, while the sopranos and altos do an angelic ‘Ah’.

Actually, if you want to listen to the whole Requiem (after all – admit it, you’ve got a lot of time on your hands), I recommend listening to this version sung by Kings College Cambridge choir. It’s an old-ish recording conducted by the great Sir David Willcocks. You might notice that Janet Baker sings the Pie jesu (at 18mins 10sec). Also on the CD cover, one Robert Chilcott – presumably Bob Chilcott as a boy treble – although he must be singing the Pie jesu in the Fauré: Requiem which is also on that CD, but not on this Youtube page.

The other set of pieces we were due to perform tonight were Parry: Songs of Farewell. I’ve never conducted these pieces before, but I remember years ago, a bass friend of mine Trevor Craddock being very excited when his choir (St George’s Chapel, Windsor) learned and performed these as a set. Finally I’ve got round to studying them and was really looking forward to conducting them tonight. The Brighton Singers have, I think, loved them and will almost certainly get round to performing them post-coronavirus. If you don’t know them, you’re in for a real surprise. Go on, have a  listen to them, sung here by the astounding Tenebrae conducted by ex King’s Singer, Nigel Short – I’m listening to them as I write this. I like watching Nigel Short – his face looks very relaxed but expressive. He does of course have 14 professional singers in front of him, but still, you have to admire the purity of sound, complete sense of control, and musicality. You’ll note also, the wonderful acoustic (and impressive Baroque architecture visible at the very start). Oh – and the clarity of words – I know I go on about the need for us to hear the words.

Well, I hope you enjoy listening to these pieces. I’d like to hear what you think of them.

I think the weather is going to be a bit colder this coming week, but Robin and I have enjoyed having breakfast every morning this week out on the patio. We are very lucky having a garden to enjoy and the seafront a short walk away. I hope you are all well. With best wishes to all my blog friends. Nick

Here’s a picture of the frogspawn in our very little pond. We have two goldfish as well, who are now two years old, and we’ve not once fed them. So I’m expecting they might feed happily on a few of these, but I hope we will have a few frogs as well (or are they toad spawn?)



  1. Frogspawn – i believe toads lay in strings not blobs!
    I love the Songs of Farewell too. It’s ages since I’ve sung the Durufle but I do like it, and even more I love his Four Motets – I think I encountered these for the first time on a BBC R4 Pilgrimage to Rome in 2001, when we sang the Daily Service and Sunday Worship in various different churches. It was memorable in the we flew to Rome on the Friday after 9/11 on the Tuesday and were offered the option of a full rebate if we didn’t want to come. I don’t think anyone took that up but one man was compelled by his family to travel overland and arrived late! It was also memorable for me in that I met for the first time someone who became and remains a very good friend.
    I suppose 9/11 was the last major event comparable to Covid-19 in the extent of its world changing effects.

    1. Author

      Thanks for the info about Frogspawn – I’ll look forward to frogs, but hopefully not a plague of them.

  2. Thank you Nick. Inspired by your post, I’m going to have a listen to the Parry – the Tenebrae recording – later. Recently I’ve largely reverted to the 16th and 17th century with various bits of the sacred Choral repertoire from Purcell, Byrd &Victoria (especially his Requiem that I was lucky enough to sing with David Skinner in Avila a couple of years ago. Singing part of it in the choir stalls of the cathedral where Victoria, himself, was a choir boy was fabulous). I’ve also been dipping into Tallis, Lobo, Guerrero, and a particular favourite that I was reminded of when rehearsing the Parry: Maurice Greene ‘Lord let me know mine end’.

  3. Sorry not to be singing the beautiful Parry songs and the Duruflé. We will listen later. John is building a shed in the hail and I’ve been chucking compost about.
    St George’s Chapel, Windsor – Every Christmas my Dad used to take all 4 of us and Mum to Evensong in the chapel, followed by burger and chips, followed by the panto at the Theatre Royal – which just about covers all bases.

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      Nice to hear about your annual visit to St George’s Chapel (and the burger joint……..I don’t remember seeing one of those in the Castle grounds). Trevor once invited me to Christmas morning service in the chapel. Remarkably, I had my Mum and Dad and my 90something year old Nanna spending Christmas with me, so I persuaded Trevor to get me 4 tickets. So we all went to this service, attended by the Queen, I remember Princess Diana and all the royal family. Of course I enjoyed it, but it made my Nanna’s day completely, especially being waved through the castle gates (in my small 2CV) passed a queue of visitors.

  4. Hi Nick,

    I’ve spent a happy afternoon ‘singing along” with the Durufle, and listening to both the Kings College recording, and the Parry.
    I’ve sung Never Weatherbeaten Sail before, but confess the rest was new to me. Really enjoyed it so thanks for the suggestions.
    Listening to the Kings College Choir reminded me of Christmas Eves spent queing with school friends from the crack of dawn, to get into the Kings College Chapel for the Lessons and Carols in the afternoon. It was as cold on those occassions as it is today, pesky easterly winds!

    Keep well!

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      Hi Penny. Thank you for that response, which alone makes it worth my while. I’m delighted that you had such a happy afternoon. Nick

  5. Yes, I was going to say the same, toads lay their spawn in strings. What a lovely clear pond you have!
    Lots of time on my hands? I wish! But where do the days go? Sleeping and getting up late is probably part of the answer.
    Keep safe and well, all of you, Grace

  6. Hello Nick and all those looking in. Just as with everyone else, I think I’m slightly enjoying the enforced lockin though it’s tough if you’re struggling financially I bet. The sunshine and the lazy hazy days have been a treat. I find I’m fitting in a lot of music listening which is always a pleasure. Listened to the Durufle as I performed it only 18 months ago. Lovely lovely music and a match for the revered Faure (which I also like of course). I’m finding my problem is deciding with which of the Major works to sing along. I did enjoy the albeit brief run at Gerontius, and have indulged a little bit of Bach B minor. I read a comment recently that we have never been so blessed as now with a fantastic amount of Ancient and Modern music with which we can indulge ourselves. Usually enjoy singing along with the Chamber choir stuff mostly (I’ve enjoyed the Parry songs before.) I’m sure we’re all hoping to get out of the worst of the Covid soon enough, even though it’s likely to be with us for some months yet. More jobs around the place!! More music to listen to. Best wishes and take care. Ray

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