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I recently sang, and separately listened to a performance of Duruflé's requiem. While listening, I was struck by the last chord of the in Paradisum, which adds an unexpected note half way through (and even wondered if Duruflé was hinting at an afterlife).

I don't have the score, but located a YouTube video that has a reduced score accompanying a recorded performance. I think the final chord is a dominant 7th in B major (notes F#, A#, C#, E), which gets supplemented by a G# on the last three beats of the piece. I think it is the G# that is particularly interesting.

Reduced score of last bars

My questions:

1) Is this anything unusual? or is this just typical for the era in which the music was written?
2) If there is something unusual here, has it been commented upon previously; has it been interpreted somewhere?

Thanks for any info!

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It's undoubtedly a beautiful moment!

The chord is what we call an F♯9. These "extended tertian" chords (chords that have 9ths, 11ths, or 13ths) will also have the dominant seventh added to them. So this is an F♯ triad (F♯ A♯ C♯) with both the dominant seventh (E) and the ninth (G♯). Contrast this chord with an F♯add9, which would not have the dominant seventh (E).

I wouldn't say it's unusual. Duruflé lived from 1902 to 1986, so he was firmly in the 20th century. Before about 1900, composers would end pieces on consonant sonorities, but after about 1900, composers starting treating dissonances (like seventh and ninth chords) as comparatively stable points of repose. This piece was written in 1948, so it's pretty standard to see a piece written mid-century that ends on a ninth chord.

As for interpretation, I think you're right on the money. It's a half cadence (or in England, an "imperfect" cadence); the last chord really begs to be resolved to B, but we never get it. To me it's a clear hint towards what's awaiting us "after the end."

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  • 1
    An imperfect cadence.
    – Tim
    Jun 6 '18 at 15:44
  • @Tim Wow, I can't believe I forgot to put that in there; thanks! In the US we call it a "half cadence."
    – Richard
    Jun 6 '18 at 17:28
  • @Tim: So in this case it's a II-V imperfect/half cadence? Thanks for pointing this out. (I see wiki mentions that weak cadences call for continuation, echoing the comment in the answer above). Jun 6 '18 at 21:00
  • @AnthonyQuas Yep, but more than that, the ii is major and built on the lowered second scale degree; we call this a Neapolitan. (Although this one is in second inversion and also has an F♯.)
    – Richard
    Jun 6 '18 at 21:02
  • What better way to illustrate eternity than with a perpetually unresolved dominant 9th? Stroke of genius.
    – Gus Cairns
    Jul 2 at 16:13
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I've been singing this piece with my choir this fall, and the final cadence is so intriguing to me. I do think it's a very unusual cadence, and I would actually analyze it differently from some of the posts above.

My analysis rests on the fact that I hear the entire movement in F# major. I know the key signature says B major, but I absolutely don't hear it that way. There are lots of E-sharps thrown in right from the beginning, so I think Duruflé is establishing an F# major key center.

This would mean that at the end of the movement, we actually do resolve to the tonic by way of the flat VII, flat VI, and flat V chords of F# major (with the sopranos holding the F# suspended over them all). This is why it sounds so unusual--rarely does a composer use the lowered V, VI, and VII chords all in one cadence.

  • "ha-" has the flat VII chord (E major)
  • "be-as re-" has the minor iv chord (B minor)
  • "-e-" has the flat VI chord (D major)
  • "qui" has the flat V chord (C major)
  • "em" has the I chord (F# major with a "jazzy" minor 7 from the altos)

This analysis explains why the cadence sounds so unexpected. I don't think it's a typical imperfect cadence, or even a Neapolitan followed by a dominant. I think, by using these chords on the lowered tones, Duruflé is evoking a feeling of being lowered gently down into our final resting place. I get chills every time I sing it!

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  • Thanks Jessica for the comments. This is all very interesting. I don't think your analysis says anything about the very subtle G# that appears on the second beat of the fermata? Or did I miss something? (BTW: I'm currently singing this piece (again!) and I love it). Nov 10 at 19:39
  • PS: You can hear the note in question very clearly at 58:31 on youtu.be/c-RiYOpaYVw Nov 10 at 20:23
  • You're right, I didn't address the G#. I hear it as a sus2 that ultimately never resolves to the third of the scale (A#).
    – Jessica
    Nov 11 at 21:39
  • So I think there is probably room for both interpretations: the interesting new one you’re suggesting of the descending chords suggesting burial; and the floating G# representing passage to somewhere else. Nov 14 at 21:38

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