Te Deum Op. 22 (Vocal Score)
Te Deum Op. 22 (Vocal Score)
Firmly rooted in the grand Napoleonic tradition of spectacle and great ceremony, the Te Deum (1849-50) by Hector Berlioz is one of the composer’s “architectural pieces” which he himself placed alongside the lesser-known Symphonie funèbre et triomphale (1840) and the magnificent Requeim of 1837.1
This work, for three choirs, large orchestra, and grand organ, is at once dramatic and solemn, prayerful and pompous. The Te Deum setting was neither a commission nor was it written for a specific event; its genesis is somewhat mysterious according to Berlioz scholars. However, what is sure is the craftsmanship of this colossal composition and the awesome impact that it has upon the listener, despite its sacred nature. According to Berlioz: “A Te Deum is generally thought to be a ceremonial hymn of thanksgiving. Ceremony is indeed its principal character, but several verses of the text are actually prayers whose humility and melancholy offer contrasts to the majesty of the hymns. There is even a Miserere in the Te Deum. The composer has therefore attempted to reproduce these quite different moods.”2
Berlioz indeed captures the dramatic elements inherent in the religious text, thus creating a more profound musical experience for the audience. His ability to create both an intimate, prayerful atmosphere and a grandiose, bombastic opening of the heavens is nothing short of genius. This demonstrates the composer’s ma-stery of dramatic music even though his operatic attempts were less than successful. In speaking of his Requiem and Te Deum Berlioz indicates that it is the “form of the pieces, the breadth of style, and the deliberateness of certain progressions, the goal of which is not at once perceived, that give those works their gigantic physiognomy and colossal aspect.”3 With this said, Berilioz recognized that because of the “immensity of form” some listeners would either be totally “crushed by a tremendous emotion” or entirely “
He therefore realized that from the outset not everyone would grasp the enormity of a work such as the Te Deum.
Composed for large forces, Berlioz relies upon various dramatic effects in the chorus and orchestra, as well as a vast space for the performance. The organ, which plays both a symbolic role as well as a theatrical one, must be at a distance from the orchestra, as in the church of St. Eu-stache in Paris where the only complete performance of the work took place during the composer’s lifetime.5
Berlioz relies upon various antiphonal effects which give the impression of the whole of humanity making music, a technique he also employed in the Requiem with brass and tympani being dispersed to the four corners of the concert hall. Berlioz’s skill as an orchestrator is preeminent in this work, as is his proficiency with counterpoint. From the outset, he develops the imitative theme of “Te Deum laudamus” between the choirs and orchestra with dexterity and great interest, creating a chain of climaxes like bells tolling, as they build continuously.
The second movement, “Tibi omnes angeli,” begins with a rather simple chorale-like solo for the organ before the sopranos enter. The ensuing “Sanctus” builds with sixteenth-note iterations in the winds (like the fluttering of wings) and the layering of voices in addition to the timpani rolls and cymbal crashes (4 or 5 pairs as indicated by the composer) creates a breath-taking picture of the opening of the heavens. The effect is thrilling; the skies are truly full of the angelic choirs. After this movement Berlioz inserts a prelude which, according to the composer himself, must be omitted if the work is not performed as part of a military function. It serves an harmonic function if nothing else, moving the work from B major, to F major, to D major for the next section, “Dignare Domine,” or it may also serve a liturgical function depending upon the ceremony. This movement is a lyric prayer, which as Hugh Macdonald points out, is based simply upon an ascending pedal tone sequence from d to f-natural, to a, to c-natural to e-flat, then it descends from e-natural to c-sharp, to a, to f-sharp, back to d.6 …
For more information on the piece:
Read the preface to the full score / das Vorwort zur Partitur lesen > HERE
Choir/Voice & Orchestra
225 x 320 mm