“Why the hell are you singing to me? "You are out of tune, father!" These were the last words of Jean-Philippe Rameau on his deathbed. The most important French composer of the 18th century, harpsichordist and theorist, who died on September 12, 1764, was buried the next day in the Parisian church of Saint Eustache. However, the main mourning ceremonies took place only on September 27 in the nearby oratory of the Filipino priests. Two more similar services were later held in the French capital, and Rameau was just as solemnly mourned in Avignon, Dijon, Marseille, Orleans and Rouen.
The musical core of the ceremony at the Oratoire du Louvre, which will be performed by a group of soloists, the NFM Choir and the Wrocław Baroque Orchestra under the direction of Skip Sempé, was the Messe funebre by Jean Gilles. The work, first performed at the funeral of the composer in 1705, later became a real hit at 18th-century burials. It was performed, among others, during royal funerals – of Louis XV in 1774 and of the Polish king Stanisław Leszczyński in 1766. Over the years, the piece underwent modifications, adapting it to changing tastes and the requirements of specific occasions. It was standard, for example, to include Michel Corrette’s Carillon des Morts–a musical illustration of the ringing bells of the Rouen Cathedral – during the Mass.
The task of arranging Gilles’ Requiem for Rameau’s farewell ceremony probably fell to a pair of friends – François Rebel and François Francœur from the Concert Spirituel community. In just a dozen or so days between the composer’s death and the funeral service, they had to introduce their own changes to the piece, copy the notes for the performers and rehearse with them. They skilfully modified the instrumentation of the Mass, added further sections to it and incorporate fragments of the deceased’s best operas. Interestingly, they introduced the most changes at the beginning of the piece, and the closer to the last bars, the closer their adaptation is to the original. The approaching deadline cooled down the aroused ambitions of the organisers of the musical setting. Despite the need to make an artistic compromise, the arrangement of the Mass was intended to deeply move the 1,500 mourners gathered at the ceremony. “The Requiem pierced the French with pain, while the Italians trembled with terror,” Corette complimented on this performance.