• Tota pulchra es- M. Duruflé



Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986) was an introspective and highly self-critical musician. As a result, he only published thirteen works in his lifetime, including those performed today: Requiem, Op. 9 and Quatre Motets sur des thèmes grégoriens, Op. 10. The careful nature of his personality might also be a reason for his decision to focus his virtuosic performance talents on the organ, typically a solitary instrument. In addition to his roles as a performer and a composer, Duruflé spent more than 25 years of his life teaching at the Paris Conservatoire. Accomplished, yet sincerely humble, Duruflé’s compositions have become among the most performed works of the 20th century.

The Quatre Motets sur des thèmes grégoriens, Op. 10, of 1960 are written for unaccompanied chorus and ideal companion pieces for the Requiem. Each motet is composed around the Gregorian chant melody associated with it’s individual title. As indicated in the score, you will hear the original chant melodies intoned just before each motet.

The Four Motets, written just before the final version of the composer’s Requiem, are dedicated to Auguste Le Guennant, the director of the Gregorian Institute in Paris at the time. Each is based on a different Gregorian chant tune which remains prominent throughout; this process is similar to that employed in the Requiem, lending the pieces a flexible, speech-like rhythm. The incipit (the first few notes) of the original melody is given in neumatic chant notation at the beginning of each motet.

Each of the motets is quite short — a trait that is typical of Duruflé (even the Requiem, his largest work, is composed of nine much smaller units). Also typical is his use of Renaissance contrapuntal techniques in the service of a rich harmony derived from that of Fauré and Ravel. Performed as a set, the Four Motets have a classic arch shape, reaching a climax in the third motet (“Tu es Petrus”), then, in “Tantum ergo,” returning to the mood of serene contemplation first established in “Ubi caritas.”

“Tota pulchra es” (“You are all-beautiful”) is a setting of antiphons from the feast of the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, and is sung only by the sopranos and altos. The opening melody serves as a kind of refrain, coming back twice. The pace is rather faster than in the “Ubi caritas,” and leads into the climactic third motet. Tota pulchra es is the only motet written for three-part women’s voices. This choice and the soft, sprightly nature of the piece portrays the purity and innocent nature of Mary.

Tota pulchra es, Maria.
Et macula originalis non est in Te.
Et macula originalis non est in Te.
Tu gloria Ierusalem.
Tu laetitia Israel.
Tu honorificentia populi nostri.
Tu advocata peccatorum.
O Maria, o Maria.
Virgo prudentissima.
Mater clementissima.
Ora pro nobis.
Intercede pro nobis.
Ad Dominum Iesum Christum.
Tutta bella sei, Maria,
e il peccato originale
non è in te.
Tu sei la gloria di Gerusalemme,
tu letizia d’Israele,
tu onore del nostro popolo,
tu avvocata dei peccatori.
O Maria! O Maria!
Vergine prudentissima,
Madre clementissima,
prega per noi,
intercedi per noi
presso il Signore Gesù Cristo.