Imagine if the NSO were to perform in bright-blue brocade coats, ceremonial swords, and plumed hats! That was the uniform of the 60 plus musicians of Paris’ Concert de La Loge Olympique (named after a Masonic Lodge) conducted by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de St. Georges, and considered one of the greatest orchestras in Europe.  

Parisian musical life was flourishing in the 18th century, only to be interrupted by the Revolution. The Concert spirituel was another great series, so named because their concerts took place during Lent and other religious holy days when the Opéra was dark.   

In this week’s NSO concerts, two of the featured works were performed to great acclaim in these two famous concert series, although sadly, we will not see any ceremonial swords or blue brocade coats on the Concert Hall stage. Canadian conductor Bernard Labadie will open the concert with the Symphony No.4 by Henri Joseph Rigel (1741-1799). A German expat, Rigel was a noted teacher, administrator, and a prolific composer, writing keyboard works, chamber music, symphonies, oratorios and14 operas. He was at one time the head of the Concert spirituel, and his symphonies were also performed by the Concert de La Loge Olympique. His C Minor Symphony No.4 is noted for its “storm and stress” character, a precursor of romanticism. 

Mozart and his mother came to Paris in 1788, on a job-seeking tour. During his stay, he was commissioned by the Concert spirituel to write a symphony.  

In a letter to his father dated July 3, 1778*, Mozart writes that his mother is deathly ill. The truth was that she had died in the early hours of that day. In the same letter, Mozart recounts his experience with his “Paris” symphony. The rehearsals for the symphony had gone so badly that he said, “I went to bed, fear in my heart, discontent and anger in my mind.” Fearing the worst, he finally decided to attend the performance, “with the proviso that if things went as ill as at the rehearsal, I would make my way into the orchestra, snatch the first violin’s fiddle from his hand and conduct myself!” But the concert was a triumph: “there was a great outburst of applause. I was so happy that I went straight to the Palais Royal, ate an ice, and said the rosary I had vowed.” Part of the success of the symphony is that Mozart played to the Paris orchestra’s strength—they were known for their ensemble playing-- and he opened the symphony with 4 D major unison chords. It is also the first of his symphonies to include clarinets. Mozart’s horrified father wrote back 10 days later: “I congratulate you on your good fortune with your symphony at the concert spirituel. Your decision to break into the orchestra if things had gone ill was, of course, merely an overheated fancy. Heaven forfend! You must crush back this and all similar wild notions. You cannot have considered that such a step would have cost you your life, and no man of sense would risk that for a symphony!” 

Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem would have consoled Mozart’s grief at his mother’s sudden passing. Although some have thought he wrote it after the death of his own parents, Fauré wrote: “My Requiem was not written for anything...for pleasure, if I may call it that!” “Someone has called it a lullaby of death. But that is how I see death: as a happy deliverance, a yearning for the happiness of the beyond, rather than as a distressing transition.” He added that years of accompanying funerals on the organ had made him want to write something different! Nadia Boulanger, who often conducted the work said: “The Requiem is not only one of the greatest works of Gabriel Fauré, but also one of those that do most honor to music and thought. Nothing purer, clearer in definition has been written...Certainly it is his musical web, his architecture, his reason, and order, that produce his sovereign beauty.” I first sang Gabriel Faure’s Requiem in college and have loved it ever since. In my mind, few things are more beautiful than the Pie Jesu or the final movement “In Paradisum”--truly a choir of angels.  


Bernard Labadie, conductor 
Joélle Harvey, soprano 
Michael Sumuel, bass-baritone 
The Washington Chorus, Eugene Rogers, Artistic Director 

Henri-Joseph Rigel: Symphony No.4 
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No.31, “Paris” 
Gabriel Fauré: Requiem 

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts 
Concert Hall 
April 4-6, 2024 

*Letters of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart selected and edited by Hans Mersmann 

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