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BERLIOZ: Grande messe des morts, op. 5
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The season finale offers a monumental, rarely performed work designed for a 188-piece orchestra a 210-member chorus. Berlioz wrote his Requiem for a huge cathedral in Paris whose vaulted nave and galleries above its side aisles presented acoustical challenges, but whose size allowed for massive performing forces. It was composed after a disappointing experience at St. Peter’s in Rome, where Berlioz expected to hear a chorus of thousands praising God, supported by a thundering organ. Instead he was met an 18-voice choir and a chamber organ on wheels.
Berlioz sought to create a profound communal experience, “mankind gathered together on the last day,” and one by which the listener would be “shaken to the depths of his soul.” The audience had to feel the sound –something 400 performers could accomplish.
The Requiem’s premiere was an enormous success. Berlioz wrote to his father two days after the performance, “We, too, captured Constantine the day before yesterday, the Constantine of music!… Since yesterday I’ve received I don’t know how many letters of congratulation; I can’t possibly describe to you how excited all my friends are. There’s no question but that [the Requiem] made an extraordinary impact.”
Top off the season with a full-throated work that combines the dramatic and the spiritual in a colossal ocean of sound.