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The Grande Messe des morts (or Requiem), Op. 5, by Hector Berlioz

By March 5, 2021March 19th, 2023No Comments

There are four major requiems in Western classical music: Mozart, Verdi, Brahms (which is a requiem in name only), and Berlioz. Of course there are others (Duruflé and Fauré for example), but when one thinks of the really big requiems, these four standout.

After having posted 3 of the 4 requiems, here is the Berlioz. Its first performance was in 1837. This is not background music. If you are going to listen to this, you really have to listen to it. It is at least an hour long, but it is worth the time.

Sir Colin Davis’s reading has long been regarded as one of the strongest available. Davis directs the combined forces of the London Symphony Chorus, the John Alldis Choir, and the Wandsword School Boy’s Choir in a performance filled with passion and depth. The grand scale of the work is enhanced by the surprisingly intimate sounding pianissimos contrasted with huge fortissimi. There are some issues with the sound and the miking of the chorus that detract from the recording, but every recording out in the world has some troubles. The ones in this recording do not detract from the overall experience.

I found multiple errors in the Latin text that I used.  I tried to correct them all, but some might have sneaked through.  The English had its share of problems too.  I think that I fixed them all, but some may have slipped by.

Requiem et Kyrie

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine.
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Te decet hymnus, Deus, in Sion,
et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem
Exaudi orationem mean,
ad te omnis caro veniet.
Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

Requiem et Kyrie

Grant them eternal rest, O Lord,
and may perpetual light shine on them.
Thou, O God, art praised in Sion,
and unto Thee shall the vow be performed
in Jerusalem. Hear my prayer,
unto Thee shall all flesh come.
Lord have mercy upon us.
Christ have mercy upon us.
Lord have mercy upon us.

Dies irae

Dies irae, dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla,
Teste David cum Sibylla.
Quantus tremor est futurus
Quando judex est venturus
Cuncta stricte discussurus

Tuba mirum spargens sonum
Per sepulcra regionum
Coget omnes ante thronum.
Mors stupebit et natura
Cum resurget creatura
Judicanti responsura.
Liber scriptus proferetur
In quo totum continetur,
Unde mundus judicetur.
Jundex ergo cum sedebit
Quidquid latet apparebit,
Nil inultum remanebit.

Dies irae

Days of wrath, that day
Will dissolve the earth in ashes
As David and the Sibyl bear witness.
What dread there will be
When the judge shall come
To judge all things strictly.

A trumpet, spreading a wondrous sound
Through the graves of all lands,
Will drive mankind before the throne.
Death and Nature shall be astonished
When all creation rises again
To answer to the Judge.
A book, written in, will be brought forth
In which is contained everything that is,
Out of which the world shall be judged.
When therefore the judge takes his seat
Whatever is hidden will reveal itself.
Nothing will remain unavenged.

Quid sum miser

Quid sum miser tune dicturus,
Quem patronum rogaturus,
Cum vix justus sit securus?
Recordare, Jesu pie,
Quod sum causa tuae viae,
Ne me perdas illa die.
Oro supplex et acclinis,
Cor contritum quasi cinis,
Gere curam mei finish.

Quid sum miser

What then shall I say, wretch that I am,
What advocate entreat to speak for me,
When even the righteous may hardly be secure?
Remember, blessed Jesu,
That I am the cause of Thy pilgrimage.
Do not forsake me on that day.
I pray in supplication on my knees.
My heart contrite as the dust,
Take care of my end.

Rex tremendae

Rex tremendae majestatis,
Quid salvandos salvas gratis,
Salva me, fons pietatis.
Recordare, Jesu pie,
Quod sum causa tuae viae,
Ne me perdas illa die.
Confutatis maledictis
Flammis acribus addictis,
Voca me…
Et de profundo lacu.
Libera me de ore leonis,
Ne cadam in obscurum,
Ne absorbeat me Tartarus.

Rex trmendae

King of terrible majesty.
Who freely saveth the redeemed,
Save me, O font of goodness.
Remember, blessed Jesu,
That I am the cause of Thy pilgrimage.
Do not forsake me on that day.
When the accursed have been confounded
And given over to the bitter flames.
Call me…
And from the bottomless pit.
Deliver me from the lion’s mouth.
Lest I fall into darkness
And the black abyss swallow me up.

Quearens me

Quaerens me sedisti lassus,
Redemisti crucem passus,
Tantus labor non sit cassus.
Juste judex ultionis
Donum fac remissionis
Ante diem rationis.
Ingemisco tanquam reus,
Supplicanti parce, Deus.
Preces meae non sunt dignae,
Sed tu bonus fac benigne,
Ne perenni cremer igne.
Quid Mariam absolvisti
Et latronem exaudisti,
Mihi quoque spem dedisti.
Inter oves locum praesta
Et ab haedis me sequestra,
Statuens in parte dextra.

Quaerens me

Seeking me Thou didst sit down weary
Thou didst redeem me, suffering death on the cross.
Let no such toil be in vain.
Just and avenging Judge.
Grant remission
Before the day of reckoning.
I groan like a guilty man.
Spare a suppliant, O God.
My prayers are not worthy,
But Thou in Thy merciful goodness grant
That I burn not in everlasting fire.
Thou who didst absolve Mary Magdalen
And hearken to the thief,
To me also hast given hope.
Place me among Thy sheep
And separate me from the goats.
Setting me on Thy right hand.


Lacrymosa dies illa
Qua resurget ex favilla
Judicandus homo reus.
Pie Jesu, Domine
Dona eis requiem aeternam.


Mournful that day
When from the dust shall rise
Guilty man to be judged
Merciful Jesu, Lord
Grant them eternal rest.


Domine, Jesu Christe, Rex gloriae,
libera animas omnium
fidelium defunctorum de poenis
inferni et de profundo lacu.
Et signifer sanctus Michael
repraesentet eas in lucem
sanctam, quam olim Abrahae
promisisti et semini eius,
Domine, Jesu Christe, Amen.


Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory,
deliver the souls of all the
faithful departed from the pains
of hell and from the bottomless pit.
And let St. Michael Thy standard
bearer lead them into the holy
light which once Thou didst promise
to Abraham and his seed,
Lord Jesus Christ. Amen


Hostias et preces tibi laudis
offerimus. Suscipe pro animabus
illis quarum hodie memoriam


We offer unto Thee.
this sacrifice of prayer and praise.
Receive it for those souls
whom today we commemorate.


Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus, Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis.


Holy, holy, holy, God of Hosts.
Heaven and earth are full
of Thy glory. Hosanna in the highest.

Agnus Dei

Agus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
dona eis requiem sempiternam.
Te decet hymnus, Deus, in Sion,
et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem.
Exaudi orationem meam, ad te omnis
caro veniet.

Requiem aeternam
dona defunctis, Domine, et lux
perpetua luceat eis, cum sanctis tuis
in aeternam, Domine, quia pius es.

Agnus Dei

Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins
of the world, grant them everlasting rest.
Thou, O God, art praised in Sion
and unto Thee shall the vow be
performed in Jerusalem. Hear my
prayer, unto Thee shall all flesh come.

Grant the dead eternal rest,
O Lord, and may perpetual light shine
on them, with Thy saints forever,
Lord, because Thou art merciful.


Hector Berlioz, in full Louis-Hector Berlioz, (born December 11, 1803, La Côte-Saint-André, France—died March 8, 1869, Paris), French composer, critic, and conductor of the Romantic period, known largely for his Symphonie fantastique (1830), the choral symphony Roméo et Juliette (1839), and the dramatic piece La Damnation de Faust (1846). His last years were marked by fame abroad and hostility at home.

Early Career
Berlioz was born in a village about 35 miles (56 km) northwest of Grenoble in the French Alps. France was at war; the schools were disrupted; and Berlioz received his education from his father, an enlightened and cultured physician, who gave him his first lessons in music as well as in Latin. But, like many composers, Berlioz received in his early years little formal training in music. He worked out for himself the elements of harmony and by his 12th year was composing for local chamber-music groups. With help from performers, he learned to play the flute and the guitar, becoming a virtuoso on the latter.

In 1821 his father sent him to Paris to study medicine, and for a year he followed his courses faithfully enough to obtain his first degree in science. He took every opportunity to go to the Paris-Opéra, however, where he studied, score in hand, the whole repertory, in which the works of Gluck had for him the most appeal and authority. His musical vocation had become so clear in his mind that he contrived to be accepted as a pupil of Jean-François Lesueur, professor of composition at the Paris Conservatoire. This led to disagreements between Berlioz and his parents that embittered nearly eight years of his life. He persevered, took the obligatory courses at the Conservatoire, and in 1830 won the Prix de Rome, having received second prize in an earlier competition. These successes pacified his family but were, in a sense, incidental to his career, for in the same year he had finished and obtained a performance of his first great score, which is also a seminal work in 19th-century music, the Symphonie fantastique.

Mature Career
A series of accidents brought him in touch with the actress Harriet Smithson, whom he married on October 3, 1833. The marriage did not last, though for some years the couple led a peaceful existence at Montmartre in the house that Maurice Utrillo later never tired of painting. Among the visitors there were the young poets and musicians of the Romantic movement, including Alfred de Vigny and Chopin. It was there that Berlioz’s only child, Louis, was born and also where he composed his great Requiem, the Grande Messe des morts (1837), the symphonies Harold en Italie (1834) and Roméo et Juliette (1839), and the opera Benvenuto Cellini (Paris, 1838).

The Requiem of 1837 had been a government commission for a ceremonial occasion designed to encourage the Rome laureate. The request to compose another work for a public ceremony—the Symphonie funèbre et triomphale (Funeral Symphony) for military band, chorus, and strings, commissioned for the 10th anniversary of the July Revolution (1840)—was intended as a partial solace for the defeat of Benvenuto Cellini. A few years before, Berlioz’s literary gifts had won him the post of music critic for the leading Paris newspaper, the Journal des Débats, and his employers wielded political influence. Once again, there were intrigues, but the score of the Funeral Symphony was ready for the inauguration of the Bastille column. Unfortunately, the music was drowned out by the drum corps, a disaster that Berlioz repaired by giving the work the following month at a concert hall. This was the score that Wagner, then seeking fame in Paris, admired so wholeheartedly.

Berlioz was able to put Wagner in the way of some musical journalism and thus began a fitful connection of 30 years between the two men whose influence on modern music still resembles a battle of ideals: Berlioz aiming at the creation of drama in and through music alone; Wagner at marriage of symphony with opera. Although Berlioz and Wagner met again in London in 1855 and found each other congenial, their philosophical differences generally kept them apart.

On orchestration itself (and, even more important, on instrumentation) Berlioz produced the leading treatise, Traité d’instrumentation et d’orchestration modernes (1844). Much more than a technical handbook, it served later generations as an introduction to the aesthetics of expressiveness in music. As Albert Schweitzer has shown, its principle is as applicable to Bach as to Berlioz, and it is in no way governed by considerations of so-called program music. To this last-named genre of dubious repute, Berlioz did not contribute more than the printed “story” of his first symphony, which is intelligible as music, without any program.

In Berlioz’s final years he was incapacitated by illness and saddened by many deaths. His first wife, from whom he was separated but to whom he still felt a deep attachment, died in 1854; his second wife, Maria Recio, who had been his companion for many years and whom he had married when he became a widower, died suddenly in 1862. Finally, his son, Louis, who was a sea captain and on whom he concentrated the affection of his declining years, died of yellow fever in Havana at the age of 33.