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8.554750-51 - GOSSEC: Grande Messe des Morts / Symphonie a 17 parties

François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829)

Grande Messe des Marts • Symphanie à 17 parties

François-Joseph Gossec won a place for himself above all as the progenitor of the French symphony, a form to which he made a significant contribution in the earlier part of his long career. Born at Vergnies in Hainaut in 1734, two years after the birth of Haydn, whom he outlived by twenty years, he had his early musical experience as a chorister at Walcourt, in Maubeuge and finally at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Antwerp. In 1751 he moved to Paris, where an introduction to Rameau brought employment by the latter's patron, the fermier-général Le Riche de La Pouplinière, at first as a violinist and bass player. His position brought not only a connection with Rameau but also with the Mannheim composer Johann Stamitz, who directed the house-orchestra in 1754-55 and was a leading figure in the creation of the Mannheim style of symphony. It was for La Pouplinière's orchestra, of which he later served as director, that Gossec wrote his first symphonies in a period of employment that continued until his patron's death in 1762.

During the following years Gossec served in the musical establishment of Louis-Joseph de Bourbon, Prince de Condé, at Chantilly, and as intendant de la musique to Louis-François de Bourbon, Prince de Conti. The period brought his first stage works, the earliest of these for the private theatre of the Prince de Conti, and subsequent opéras comiques for public performance in Paris at the Théâtre-Italien. At the same time he continued to write instrumental music both for chamber ensembles and for orchestra. Public concerts in Paris had since 1725 been the province of the Concert Spirituel, but in 1769 Gossec established a new organization, the Concert des Amateurs, which he directed for four years, before the appointment of the Guadeloupe-born swordsman, violinist and composer, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, as director. The Concert des Amateurs continued in existence until 1781, when it closed, to be replaced by the Concert de la Loge Olympique, also under the Chevalier de Saint­-Georges. It was for this last that Haydn's Paris Symphonies were commissioned. In 1773 Gossec became a co-director, with Simon Leduc and Pierre Gaviniès, of the Concert Spirituel, retaining this position until 1777. These years brought continuing association with the Opéra, although he was unable, as a composer, to compete with Gluck or Grétry in this field.

The storming of the Bastille on 14th July 1789 initiated a period of considerable political and social change that was inevitably reflected in the music of the day. As the revolution gained ground, the concert societies ceased to operate, but Gossec, who had resigned from the Opéra in 1789, found an outlet for his abilities as a musician and his republican sympathies in the Corps de Musique de la Garde Nationale, organized by the former accounting clerk Bernard Sarrette. Sarrette succeeded in setting up a Military Music School, transformed in 1794, thanks to his eloquence before the Convention, into a patriotic National Music Institute, changed again the following year into the Conservatoire, with Gossec one of its five inspectors. He had directed since its foundation in 1784 the Ecole Royale de Chant. This was now absorbed into the new institution. The revolutionary régimes, now the monarchy was abolished, the nobility destroyed and the churches closed, demanded a new kind of music for open, popular performance, to serve their varying ideals. To this Gossec was happy to contribute in a series of compositions, public hymns to liberty, to Voltaire and to Rousseau, to the Supreme Being, to humanity and to the various new festivals that now appeared.

With the accession to power of Napoleon as First Consul and then, in 1804, as Emperor, Gossec devoted himself primarily to teaching and to administrative tasks, composing little, apart from his Symphonie à 17 parties, that he had first sketched in 1792 and completed in 1809. The defeat of Napoleon and the re-­establishment of the Bourbon monarchy led to the closure of the Conservatoire in 1816, with Gossec's enforced retirement. The Conservatoire was replaced by a Royal School of Voice and Drama, its original title only restored in 1831, after the July Revolution. By then, however, Gossec had been dead for two years, after spending the final period of his life at Passy, where La Pouplinière had once housed his musicians.

Gossec wrote his Messe des morts in 1760 and published it twenty years later with a dedication to the Administrators of the Concerts des Amateurs. It was to serve the purposes of the Revolution with a performance on 6th August 1789 in honour of the citizens killed in the storming of the Bastille, with two further performances in the same month, the first on 22nd August at the Church of Saint-Laurent and the second on 31st August at the Church of Sainte-­Marguerite. It has been suggested that Gossec's Requiem influenced Mozart, who had received encouragement from the older man during his stay in Paris in 1778, describing him as his good friend and ein sehr trockner ManIt (a very dull man). Certainly Mozart found French choral performance effective, compared, in particular, with what he had heard in Mannheim. That Gossec's work influenced Berlioz is probable, although French repertoire included other works on a similarly grand scale with which the latter would have been familiar.

The C major instrumental Introduzione, scored for woodwind, horns and strings, is preceded by the portentous sound of drums and dominated by a rhythmic figure that suggests the solemnity of what is to follow. The opening figure returns, briefly supported by the drum. The throbbing sound of muted strings accompanies the largely homophonic C minor Introit, leading to a brighter E flat major setting of Te decet hymnus, with soprano and contralto soloists and moments of contrapuntal imitation in the chorus. Flutes and strings accompany the soprano soloist in an F minor Largo setting of Exaudi orationem meam. The original key and rhythmic figure are restored for the chorus Requiem aeternam and this is followed by a vigorous and grandiose formal fugal setting of Et lux perpetua luceat eis, accompanied by strings.

The Dies irae opens with a Baroque G minor introduction before the entry of the chorus. Brass instruments herald and punctuate the E flat major Tuba mirum with its dramatic baritone solo. Horns, drums and strings make an impressive introduction to the C major chorus Mors stupebit, with a histrionic emphasis in the setting of the word mars (death). The following stanzas of the sequence are omitted, leading directly to Quid sum miser, set as an F major tenor recitative, marked Lento. This leads to an F minor trio, introduced by syncopated strings in accompaniment of a first violin melody, before the entry of the soprano soloist with the words Recordare Jesu pie, to be joined by the contralto and tenor soloists, the whole underpinned by ominous accompanying syncopation. A brighter F major for oboes, horns and strings, opens the operatic soprano solo of Inter oves. There is a short instrumental link to the agitated Confutatis maledictis for chorus and strings, omitting the last line of the text and ending with an E flat chord that leads directly to the subdued supplication of Oro supplex. The poignant F minor Lacrymosa, accompanied by oboes, horns and strings, is a duet for two sopranos. The next verse, Judicandus homo reus, is a brief B flat major choral interlude, before the G minor Andante of the choral Pie Jesu, both these last with string accompaniment, the latter with a moving first violin obbligato against the slower homophonic writing for the chorus. The sequence ends with a fugal setting of the Amen.

The Offertory, using a less usual and finally more aggressive scriptural text, opens with a deeply felt C minor tenor recitative, Vado et non revertar, in which the horn has a linking part to play in the central section of a movement entrusted primarily to the strings. The key of E flat major, now with flutes, clarinets, horns and strings, gives a brighter colour of hope to the tenor Spera in Deo. There follows an energetic C minor setting of Cedant hostes for solo tenor and bass with the chorus and strings, to put the enemy finally to flight.

The abbreviated Sanctus is a short F major movement for the chorus with strings. Woodwind chords start the setting of Pie Jesu, with its duet for solo tenor and bass, with the chorus. There is a moving choral setting of the Agnus Dei and a sombre C minor Requiem aeternam, capped by a splendidly optimistic fugal plea for eternal light in the final choral Et lux perpetua.

Gossec's Symphonie à 17 parties starts with a slow introduction and harks back to an earlier age. There is a lively Allegro with contrasts of instrumental texture in which the possibilities of the wind instruments are variously explored in the martial spirit of the day. The lyrical slow movement again makes good use of the woodwind and linking notes from the French horn in effective string writing. The mood changes with a dramatically portentous and sombre Minuet, not a movement for dancing or for levity, although the Trio adds a curious turn to it. The work ends with a cheerful Allegro assai in which the woodwind is splendidly deployed, a movement in which some have detected revolutionary hints, recalling the events of twenty years earlier.

Keith Anderson

François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829)

Grande Messe des Marts • Symphanie à 17 parties





Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine: et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord:

and let perpetual light shine upon them.


Te decet hymnus Dells in Sion,

et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem.

A hymn, O God, becomes you in Sion,

and a vow shall be paid to you in Jerusalem.


Exaudi orationem meam,

ad te omnis caro veniet.

O Lord, hear my prayer:

all flesh shall come to you.




Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine:

Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord.


Et lux perpetua luceat eis.

And let perpetual light shine upon them.




Dies irae, dies illa,

solvet saeclum in favilla:

teste David cum Sibylla.

Quantus tremor est futurus,

quando judex est venturus,

cuncta stricte discussurus.

Day of wrath, that dreadful day,

the world will melt in ashes,

as David and the Sibyl foretold.

What trembling there will be,

when the judge shall come,

dealing strictly with everything.


Tuba mirum spargens sonum

per sepulchra regionum,

coget omnes ante thronum.

The trumpet scattering wonderful sound

through earth's sepulchres

shall bring all before the throne.


Mors stupebit et natura,

cum resurget creatura,

judicanti responsura.

Death shall stand stupefied and nature,

when the creature shall rise

to answer to the one that judges.


Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?

quem patronum rogaturus?

cum vix justus sit securus.

Rex tremendae majestatis,

qui salvandos salvas gratis,

salva me, fons pietatis.

What am I, a wretch, to say?

Whom seek to intercede,

when the just man is barely safe?

King of fearful majesty,

who grants salvation to those to be saved,

save me, fount of mercy.


Recordare Jesu pie,

quod sum cause tuae viae:

ne me perdas illa die.

Quaerens me, sedisti lassus:

redemisti crucem passus:

tantus labor non sit cassus.

Juste judex ultionis,

donum fac remissionis,

ante diem rationis.

Ingemisco, tamquam reus:

culpa rubet vultus meus:

supplicanti parce Delis.

Qui Mariam absolvisti,

et latronem exaudisti,

mihi quoque spem dedisti.

Preces meae non sunt dignae:

sed tu bonus fac benigne,

ne perenni cremer igne.

Remember, merciful Jesus,

that I am the reason for your life:

do not destroy me on that day.

Seeking me, you lived in weariness,

suffered the cross and redeemed me:

let such labour not be in vain.

O just judge of vengeance,

grant me remission

before the day of reckoning.

I groan as an offender:

my face blushes with guilt:

spare the suppliant, O God.

You who absolved Mary

and heard the thief,

you gave hope too to me.

My prayers are unworthy,

but you, in goodness, act kindly,

so that I do not burn in eternal fire.


Inter oves locum praesta,

et ab haedis me sequestra,

statuens in parte dextra.

Among the sheep grant me a place

and separate me from the goats,

putting me on your right hand.


Confutatis maledictis,

flammis acribus addictis,

(voca me cum benedictis.)

Let the cursed ones be confounded,

committed to harsh flames:

(summon me among the blessed).


Oro supplex et acclinis,

cor contritum quasi cinis:

gere curam mei finis.

I beg you, suppliant, bowing down,

my contrite heart like ashes,

care for me at my ending.


Lacrymosa dies illa,

qua resurget ex favilla

Tearful, that day

on which shall rise from the ashes


Judicandus homo reus:

huic ergo parce Deus.

guilty man, to be judged.

Therefore, O God, spare this man.


Pie Jesu Domine,

dona eis requiem.


O merciful Lord Jesus,

grant them rest.






Vado et non revertar:

aeternitatem pavide conspicio:

sors immutabilis tamen contingit me,

jam apertum video monumentum,

vocem tenebrosam audio

ad judicium evocantem me.

quid sum dicturus? heu me miserum:

iram Domini portabo

quia peccavi:

quare tristis es anima mea

et quare conturbas me.

I go and shall not return:

in fear I behold eternity:

but an immutable fate is upon me:

now I see the open tomb,

I hear a dark voice

calling me to judgement.

What am I to say, wretch that I am?

I will bear the anger of the Lord,

because I have sinned.

Why are you sad, O my soul,

and why are you disturbed?


Spera in Deo,

quoniam adhuc confitebor illi:

salutare vultus mei et Deus meus.

Hope in God,

for I will acknowledge him

as my salvation and my God.


Cedant hostes in adventu ejus,

contremiscant et fugiant in infernum,

confundantur et erubescant:

iter impedire non audeant.

Let enemies withdraw at his approach,

let them tremble and flee to the depths,

let them be confounded and blush for shame,

let them not dare to impede the way.




Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus

Dominus Deus Sabaoth.

Holy, holy, holy,

Lord God of Sabaoth.

Pie Jesu

Pie Jesu


Pie Jesu Domine,

dona eis requiem.

O merciful Lord Jesus,

grant them rest.

Agnus Dei

Agnus Dei


Agnus Dei,

qui tollis peccata mundi,

dona eis requiem.

Lamb of God,

that takes away the sins of the world,

grant them eternal rest.

Post Communionem



Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,

et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord,

and let perpetual light shine upon them.

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