Written just four years before his death, Poulenc’s setting of the Roman Catholic Gloria in excelsis Deo text is one of his most celebrated works. Premiered in Boston in January 1961, it has remained a firm favourite with performers and audiences alike.
The work is divided into six movements, as follows:
- Gloria in excelsis Deo
- Laudamus te
- Domine Deus, Rex caelistis
- Domine Fili unigenite
- Domine Deus, Agnus Dei
- Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris
The first movement opens with a great chordal motif from the brass instruments that very closely resembles the opening of Igor Stravinsky’s Serenade in A for Piano (1925). The chorus then enters singing in an accented and declamatory manner.
A light tune repeats throughout the second movement along with an often-changing time signature. The last line of the text, beginning “Gratias agimus…” is in a somber chromaticized mode, giving an other-worldly characteristic in the middle of the revelry of the movement. The accentuation of the text in this movement has been referred to as “perverse”, due to its un-speechlike patterns.
The third movement is led by the extremely dramatic solo soprano line, and ends with a picardy third, preparing the way for the more joyful fourth movement.
The fourth movement is the shortest and resembles the second movement in the jocular nature of the phrases, but contains some of the accented nature of the first movement in the chorus parts. The melodic lines are often pentatonic, and the quick tempo and rousing rhythms give a whirling and dancing impression, grounded by the constant return of the theme.
The fifth movement resembles the third movement with the return of the soprano soloist as leader. The music is dark and mysterious, due in part to the inclusion of both an augmented fourth and an augmented fifth in the soprano’s opening melodic line. The movement culminates in an E-flat minor chord, a fifth lower than the beginning B-flat minor, giving an uneasy, mysterious feeling to the end.
The sixth movement begins with alternating a cappella chorus and interjections of the accompaniment intoning the fanfare theme from the first movement. The final section is preceded by a solo “Amen” from the soprano, echoed by the chorus. The chorus proceeds to repeat the text, this time over a mixture of B minor and G major chords in the organ. The fanfare theme from the first movement returns one final time before the final, triumphant “amen”
We are delighted that internationally acclaimed soprano soloist, Susan Gritton, will be performing this work with the Chamber Choir, directed by Patrick Barrett, at the Brandenburg Festival in March 2020.
To sing this wonderful work, see our Chamber Choir pages and sign up for auditions in the Autumn Term.
Ticket information for the Brandenburg Festival will be available soon.