Requiem du Chasseur by Lowell Greer (2003)
Requiem du Chasseur performance at Yale University,
Premiered at Western Illinois University, Macomb, Illinois, April 6, 2003
by Lowell Greer
The Trompe-de-Chasse, or hunting horn, holds a remarkable position in the world of music. Originally developed as an adjunct to the sport of hunting, its sound could be heard over long distances in the pre-electronic communication era and functioned as a primitive "cell phone." Reaching its final form around 1680, one only needs to envision the palace at Versailles as basically a hunting lodge for nobility to understand the "Superbowl Sunday" type zeal with which the kings of France relished this "al fresco" activity. All of the kings of France loved the hunt, played the Trompe, recognized the various calls by heart, and even kept a stable of employees, such as the famed Marquis de Dampierre, whose Trompe-de-Chasse efforts were reserved for hunting activities. The calls of the hunt were even, in some cases, composed by the Kings, themselves.
During the ages when all other instruments fell in and out of favor or underwent drastic alteration to meet the increased demands of innovative composers, the Trompe-de-Chasse remained in its baroque era form, although the Trompe's orchestral cousin, the natural horn, evolved to become today's valve horn. One is still able today, walking down the streets of Paris or Brusselles, to buy, at reasonable cost, a new Trompe-de-Chasse built in the same manner, on the same forms, and using the same materials as those instruments utilized by Louis XIV. It has been so for more than 300 years.
Hunting horn ensembles, or Rallyes, abound in Europe today and often officiate at weddings, building dedications, and other important civic events. A census taken in the year 1850 in Paris revealed that slightly more than 1 out of 10 Parisians played this special horn. It is doubtful that 1 in 10 Americans plays the piano or any instrument, or even sings in a choir, so this statistic is stunning. The current membership of the Societe de Trompes in France alone is well over 7,000, whereas the International Horn Society boasts of only some 4,000 members, world-wide.
The literature for this valveless horn is quite special as well, having its own musical forms, orchestrations, specific ornamentations, and distinctive rules of harmonization. These unique concessions were predicated on the limitations of the instrument, itself. The harmonic series for the horn in D comprises approximately 16 pitches; all notes of this "overtone series" relating to the D major chord in one way or another. This orientation toward the major triad predetermines that hunting music remains primarily in the major mode and has a conservative style, compositionally speaking, which is, for the most part, congruent with the rules of harmonization developed in the 18th and 19th centuries, and only deviates from those rules in ways which lend a unique coloration to the music. These harmonization formulas of hunting music have been utilized by composers since the baroque era to conjure up images of nobility, aristocracy, and regal bearing. (The "horn fifths," an example of these formulas, appears in Beethoven's Emperor Concerto and the 9th Symphony's "Ode to Joy").
The St Hubertus Masses, and to a lesser degree the St Eustache Masses, prove quite significant for the Trompe-de-Chasse repertoire. As a predominantly Catholic nation, France has used its "national instrument" for unique colorations in liturgical music with the added bonus that the Trompes are able to be carried out of the church and into the forest, allowing the priests to bless, in situ, the forests, hunters, dogs, and horses. There are few, if any, Requiem Masses contained in this body of literature, however. Hunters, it seems, have always planned to live indefinitely! The lack of a concert, liturgical Requiem, therefore, is a large omission, probably noted only at a point in time when it is too late for a composer to fill this commission in a timely manner.
The function of any Requiem Mass could be described as the religious celebration of the passage of an individual from life into paradise, but, as such, the Mass addresses the survivors more than the departed. The Requiem Mass proves a moment for reflection on the duality between divine judgment and divine mercy, the hope of redemption from human failure, and a glimpse of eternal bliss in an unfallen state. The music composed for this rite of comfort has been developed into its own concert form and is thus able to be enjoyed by individuals with a differing, non-Catholic faith, or with little or no affinity for the spiritual, whatsoever.
Certain features of the Requiem du Chasseur are worth noting. From the onset, a heart-beat-like figure is heard in the pedals of the organ and recurs throughout the Requiem in various forms. This figure unifies the otherwise separate movements. Another reoccurring figure, a five note pattern where the pitch rises above, falls below and returns to the original note, serves, musically, as a "surrounding group," and is finally revealed, in the Evangelium movement, to have been "borrowed" from the horn call of farewell, "le Bonsoir." The horns function like a choir in a conventional Requiem but are able to, both, provide contrast to the tenor chant, as well as to introduce their own material, "a la chasse."
The Introit remains somberly in the realm of the organ for much of its duration, only interrupted by the horns as the tenor sings of Lux perpetua, and following the optomism of the horn sonority, concluding on an optimistic D major chord.
The Kyrie utilizes the written Bb of the overtone series, generally considered too flat. Here it provides a strongly reinforced feeling of gloom in a minor key. Through this and the use of "stopped tones" created by muting the horn with the right hand in the bell, the Trompe-de-Chasse choir seems to bemoan the spiritual doom of man. The movement concludes with a short Toccata, a flourish of organ sound which through melodic content, presages the Dies Irae melody. Although the Kyrie is in the Aeolian mode (natural minor), the chant deflects into the Phrygian mode yielding an even more somber mood.
The Dies Irae begins with a Fugato Troncato based on the plainsong used by both Berlioz (Symphonie Fantastique) and Rachmaninoff (Variations on a Theme by Paganini). The fugue form, truncated or shortened (like the life of the deceased), varies from the norm in it contrapuntal intervals, once again determined by the limitations of the overtone series. After the melody passes through all four voices, the heartbeat motif occurs in a transmogrified form. Modern sounds are heard upon the entry of the tenor singing the Dies Irae text but, upon reaching the Quantus Tremor section, the horns usher in the Divine Judge with their own fanfare. The tenor finally becomes an "honorary horn player" during the Cuncta stricte.
In the Tuba Mirum, both the tenor and the 4th horn obbligato develop the ideal of God's apocalyptical trumpet with eastern and fabricated modalities, stopped notes, and hunting horn ornaments. The organ enjoys the freedom of random accompaniment figures, and the "worm of guilt" is ever present in the melodic line. The movement concludes with a fundamental D, most likely the lowest sound one will ever wish to hear on a horn!
In the Rex Tremendae, the Trompe-de-Chasse sound their rousing chorus three times for which the tenor sings the texts to the Rex Tremendae and Recordare.
In the Hostias, the unaccompanied tenor chants directly from traditional plainsong prayer, and horns sound their hymn and Alleluia before and after.
The Sanctus once again "bookends" the Trompe-de-Chasse's Angel chorus, in between which, the tenor chant solo is accompanied by the organ.
The horns play in canon form the plainsong melody, Agnus Dei, adapted from the Latin Requiem service for the dead. Being the most repetitious text, the canon allows the hearing of subtle shifts in orchestration as the individual horns enter.
The Evangelium text is taken from the words of Jesus of Nazareth, as recorded in Luke 20: 36-38, a truly comforting text about death and eternity. During the movement the Trompe-de-Chasse sound the call, "le Bonsoir," followed by the Hymn, Quia Vero, first played by the horns and subsequently sung by the tenor. The movement concludes with a short "Carillon" in which the horns imitate the tintinnabulation of bells.
In Paradisum concludes Requiem du Chasseur and features the tenor, musically, until the horns reveal themselves as the chorus angelorum. The heatbeat figure and the surrounding group pattern provide the foundation this abbreviated movement which seems to conclude in A major, only to have, from the distance, a solo horn play the Canticle of Zachary in the subdominant key of D, seeming to represent the separation of departed from his/her colleagues.
Evangelium et Hymnus; Luke XX: 36 - 38
Cantcle of Zachary
|exploring the role of
early 19th century brass
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