Hector Berlioz (1803­69)

Te Deum

Te Deum. Hymne

Tibi omnes. Hymne


Dignare. Prière

Christe, rex gloriæ. Hymne

Te ergo quæsumus. Prière

Judex crederis. Hymne et Prière

Marche pour la présentation des drapeaux

H. 118

For Tén. solo; Chur I (Sopr. [40], Tén. [30], Basses [30]), Chur II (Sopr. [40], Tén. [30], Basses [30]), Chur d'enfants (Sopr. & Contr. [600 enfants]); Fl. I-IV (P. fl.), Hb. I-II (C. a.) (4), Cl. I-II I (B. cl.) (4), Bns I-IV,. Cors I-IV, Petit saxhorn, Tromp. I-II, Cornets à pistons I-II, Tromb. I-III, Oph., Tuba, Timb., 4 Tamb., G. c., Cymb. (4 ou 5 pr.), Harpes (12), Orgue, Cordes (25-25-28-28-16).

Composed October 1848-August 1849, rev. 1852 and 1855.

First performed 30 April 1855 (Paris: St.-Eustache, Berlioz conducting).

Published by G. Brandus, Dufour et Cie (Paris, 1855). Dedicated à Son Altesse Royale Monseigneur le Prince Albert.

Duration: about 50 minutes.

We know little of the circumstances that led Berlioz to undertake his Te Deum: there was no commission (as there had been for the Requiem), no literary thunderstroke (as for the Fantastique), nothing to commemorate (in the way the Symphonie funèbre et triomphale commemorated the Trois Glorieuses). Probably the Te Deum had its roots in unfinished projects of 1831­32, an abandoned oratorio called Le Dernier Jour du monde (H. 61) and sketches for a military and Napoleonic symphony called Le Retour de l'armée d'Italie: Simphonie militaire en 2 parties (H. 62). In the sketchbook the composer writes: "L'idée de Simphonie en 2 parties m'est venue à Turin le 25 mai 1832 en renvoyant les Alpes, le cur plein des souvenirs Napoléoniens que le pays que je venais de parcourir avait réveillés."

In 1846 Berlioz discussed with the Duc de Montpensier the idea of finishing the Napoleonic symphony, and the listing of his works at the end of the Faust libretto in 1846 includes the Te Deum, as though it was already taking shape in his mind. In his review of the Te Deum's first performance (Revue et Gazette musicale, 6 May 1855), Maurice Bourges provided information that could only have come from Berlioz himself:

Ce Te Deum devait faire partie d'une composition taillée sur des proportions colossales, moitié épique, moitié dramatique, destinée à célébrer la gloire militaire du premier consul. Ce n'était primitivement qu'un épisode intitulé Le Retour de la campagne d'Italie. Au moment de l'entrée du général Bonaparte sous les voûtes de la cathédrale, le cantique sacré retentissait de toutes parts, les drapeaux s'agitaient, les tambours battaient, les canons tonnaient, les cloches résonnaient à grande volées. Voilà qui explique la physionomie toute guerrière de cette uvre, fort peu en rapport avec les douces et pacifiques émotions d'une fête de l'industrie.
–that is, Napoléon III's Industrial Exhibition of 1855.

The determination to compose a big liturgical work with antiphonal pipe organ, meanwhile, emerged during Berlioz's first journey to Russia, in 1847. There he had pondered the questions of how an organ might be used in symphonic music (ideas he doubtless discussed with the young Saint-Saëns in the early 1850s); there, too, he had been greatly moved by the Russian imperial chapel choir, 80 voices arranged in two equal groups on either side of the altar, famous for its celestial descrescendo: "one would have said it was a choir of angels rising from the earth and gradually vanishing into the empyrean."As he envisaged it in 1849, the Te Deum was a work in seven movements for two three-part choruses, organ, and orchestra.

Initially he allotted himself three months to complete it. The sketches and drafts were finished by September 1849, and he announced the Te Deum as "done" in October. During his 1851 visit to London as a judge for the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace, Berlioz was moved by a concert at St. Paul's, where a massed chorus of orphan children sang "All People that on Earth do Dwell" in unison. With that experience in mind, and also memories of the first chorus of Bach's St. Matthew Passion as he had heard it in Berlin, Berlioz added the chorus of children's voices, chorus III, to his manuscript.

Works of such dimension require an appropriate ceremonial event to achieve their maximum effect, and Berlioz sought such an occasion—notably the emperor's coronation in 1851 and his wedding in 1852—over the next several years, but without success. Plans to premiere the Te Deum first began to take shape in 1855, not with an imperial ceremony but when the organ builder Ducroquet started to look toward the unveiling of his new instrument for St.-Eustache. The inaugural concert, Berlioz thought, could begin with a fancy solo by Hesse, Lemmens, or "that pretty little organist with his rings, cameos, and gold-handled cane, who beautifies the themes that he plays, and that they call Lefébure-Wély." The empress, patron of an orphanage, might be induced to offer the services of seven or eight hundred children to sing the simple tunes Berlioz had added to the Tibi omnes and Judex crederis. If all the artisans involved met their schedules, the premiere of the Te Deum would just coincide with the grand opening of the Industrial Exhibition.

The first performance, on 30 April 1855, involved some 900 performers, including the 600-voice chorus of orphan children. Berlioz had hoped that Liszt would come from Weimar for the organ solos; Saint-Saëns also declined the invitation, and eventually the part was played by Édouard Batiste, titular organist at St.-Eustache and professor at the Conservatoire. The tenor was Perrier of the Opéra; the high saxhorn part was played by J.-J.-B. Arban, with the instrument itself possibly making its public debut. On 27 April, a day before the dress rehearsal, the opening of the Festival de l'Industrie was postponed for two weeks, thus ruling out the idea of blessing the flags of the Catholic exhibitors while the Marche pour la présentation des drapeaux was played. The march was thus heard as the third movement, and the Prélude dropped.

Berlioz himself has left copious guidance—in his correspondence with Liszt, in the newspapers, and in the Mémoires—as to how we are meant to hear the Te Deum. It is the last of the "architectural" works, intended to engage the acoustical characteristics of both a large vaulted room and of facing choruses with organ at the rear. The role of the organ is thus limited to setting ideas in motion and to short dialogues with the orchestra and chorus: it could not have been otherwise, given the distances between the organ and the rest of the performing force. Berlioz gently altered the liturgical text, as he had done with the Requiem, to accommodate his overall plan, in this case an alternation of mighty hymns and "de véritables prières dont l'humilité et la tristesse contrasterent avec la majesteueuse solennité des hymnes." The concluding Judex crederis is titled both "hymne et prière."

The first movement, Te Deum laudaumus, is an extended fugue whose subject is shaped from the bold descending unisons "proposed," as Berlioz put it, by the organ at the beginning. The long-note unisons, adopted by orchestra and chorus, go on to underpin and articulate the structure like an old cantus firmus. They unveil, too, the astonishing modulation, at the end of the movement, from F major (one flat) to the B major (5 sharps) of the Tibi omnes. The second movement suggests a progress from personal meditation to celestial vision, a small-scale version of the conceptual world of the Requiem. The organ passage at the beginning resembles those improvised in churches to call the faithful to prayer; what follows is a series of three strophes, each serving as a long crescendo toward the ritualistic "Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus."

The Dignare, Berlioz tells Liszt, is built on a succession of pedal points in the bass, rising from low D in thirds toward E-flat (D, F, A, C, E-flat), receding back to the original D. (Berlioz writes, too, that he was pleased to find a "miserere" in this otherwise prevailingly jubilant text.). Tu, Christe, rex gloriae, movement IV, is the big central movement, juxtaposing the cantus firmus with its inversion, a rising scalar figure. The tenor aria, Te ergo quaesumus, embraces one of Berlioz's favorite devices, the chanted choral ostinato ("fiat super nos")—quite similar in conception to the Offertoire of the Requiem, to Juliette's funeral procession, and for that matter to the "Marche des pèlerins" in Harold en Italie.

The climactic last movement, Judex crederis, is a triumph of construction: a "colossal" fugue with its long subjects and answers presented in rising semitones. (Reicha, one of Berlioz's teachers at the Conservatoire, had essayed similar structures.) The harmonic fabric is radical indeed in its tonal ambiguity; the meter, likewise, shows an easy coexistence of 9/8 and 3/4. It was this movement that made the Te Deum "colossal, Babylonien, Ninivite. ... Le Judex dépasse toutes les énormités dont je me suis rendu coupable auparavant."

"Oui, le Requiem a un frère, un frère qui est venu au monde avec des dents, comme Richard III (moins la bosse)." With the Te Deum Berlioz at last enjoyed a retour à la vie after the lamentable public reception of Faust, and with it he found a way to L'Enfance du Christ and Les Troyens.