Compact Discoveries®
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, written, hosted, and edited by Fred Flaxman
©2007 by Fred Flaxman

Program 124
"Music to Die For"

MUSIC: Cherubini: clip from the opening of Requiem, Boston Baroque conducted by Martin Pearlman [Telarc CD-80658, track 2] [under the following]

Ah, this is music to die for! In fact it is an excerpt from the Requiem in C Minor by Luigi Cherubini. We’ll listen to the entire 39-minute piece if you’ll stay with me for the next hour. I’m Fred Flaxman. The program is Compact Discoveries, and the Cherubini Requiem is a compact discovery indeed!

MUSIC: fades out

On January 21, 1817, an unusual memorial took place in the crypt below the abbey chuch of St. Denis in Paris, where most of the kings of France were buried. It was there, in front of a large audience, that Cherubini’s Requiem in C Minor was first performed. It was to commemorate the anniversary of the execution of Louis the 16th at the hands of the French Revolutiion.

A few years earlier, following Napoleon’s abdication and exile to Elba, the restored monarchy had ordered a search for the bodies of Louis the 16th and Marie Antoinette. They were found and brought to the crypt of St. Denis. Then, after Napoleon’s return and final defeat at Waterloo, the government of Louis the 18th planned the memorial service and commissioned Cherubini to compose his requiem for the occasion.

The success of Cherubini’s Requiem was immediate and overwhelming. Berlioz claimed that it gave the Requiem a virtual monopoly over memorial concerts in France. Beethoven, who called Cherubini “the greatest living composer,” said that, if he himself were to write a requiem, this one would be his only model. And the work was performed at Beethoven’s own memorial service. Robert Schumann wrote that the piece was “without equal.”

So it is really remarkable that this beautiful work, so admired by these great composers -- as well as by Mendelssohn, Brahms and Wagner -- fell into obscurity, along with most of the rest of Cherubini’s music.

Well, more about Cherubini later. But first let’s listen to this world class work as performed by the world class Boston Baroque orchestra on period instruments, conducted by Martin Pearlman on a Telarc compact disc.

MUSIC: Cherubini: Requiem, Boston Baroque conducted by Martin Pearlman [Telarc CD-80658, tracks 2-9]

Luigi Cherubini’s Requiem in C Minor performed by the Boston Baroque under the direction of Martin Pearlman. You are listening to “Music to Die For” on Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break not counted in timing total]

Cherubini lived from 1760 until 1842. He was born in Florence. His musical education began at the age of six with his father, who also was a musician. By the age of 13, he had composed several religious works. From 1778 to 1780, he studied music in Bologna and Milan.
Cherubini's early operas, set to Italian libretti, adhered closely to the conventions of time.

But by 1788 Cherubini's music began to show more originality and daring. That year he settled in Paris, just before the 1789 French Revolution. His first major success there was Lodoïska, which was admired for its realistic heroism. This was followed by Eliza , set in the Swiss Alps, and Médée, which is Cherubini's best known work. Les deux journées, in which Cherubini simplified his style somewhat, was a popular success.

But Cherubini's popularity declined markedly after Les deux journées, with Parisian audiences turning to younger composers. His opera-ballet Anacréon was an outright failure.

Disappointed with his lack of success in the theater, Cherubini turned increasingly to church music, writing seven masses, two requiems and many shorter pieces. During this period, he was also appointed superintendent of the king’s music under the restored monarchy -- his relations with Napoleon having been very cool.

In 1815 the London Philharmonic Society commissioned him to write a symphony, an overture, and a composition for chorus and orchestra. He went especially to London to conduct the performances, which helped to increase his international fame.

Cherubini wrote a funeral march in 1820 for a service in the Royal Chapel, which was not published until 1981. This piece shares the same Telarc compact disc as the Requiem in C Minor. Cherubini uses a tam-tam throughout this work, which was not a common effect, but was also not new. Let’s hear this piece now, once again with the Boston Baroque led by Martin Pearlman.

MUSIC: Cherubini: Marche Funèbre, Boston Baroque conducted by Martin Pearlman [Telarc CD-80658, track 10]

Cherubini's Marche Funèbre - Funeral March. The Boston Baroque performed the work on period instruments under the direction of Martin Pearlman on a Telarc compact disc.

There is one more work on this CD that also meets our theme for this hour, which is “Music to Die For,” but it is not by Cherubini. It is by Beethoven. His Elegiac Song, Op. 119. It was written in the summer of 1814 for his friend, supporter and former landlord, Baron Johann Pasqualati, in memory of his wife, who had died in childbirth two years earlier. Beethoven’s original setting was for four solo voices with string quartet, but he also provided an alternative version with piano accompaniment. It is performed in this Telarc recording with a small chorus and string orchestra without double basses.

MUSIC: Beethoven: Elegiac Song, Op. 118, Boston Baroque conducted by Martin Pearlman [Telarc CD-80658, track 1]

Beethoven’s Elegiac Song, Opus 118, performed by the Boston Baroque conducted by Martin Pearlman, who also provided the program notes for this Telarc compact disc, from which most of my comments were taken.

You’ve been listening to an hour of “Music to Die For” on Compact Discoveries. This is your guide Fred Flaxman hoping that you’ve enjoyed these selections.

For a complete playlist with details on the recordings played during this hour, go to There you will find information on every Compact Discoveries program, this being program number 124. Listener comments are always welcome there, or you can write to me at Compact Discoveries, 36 Pickens Lane, Weaverville, North Carolina 28787.

This program was supported by contributions from three very special members of public radio station WXEL-FM, West Palm Beach, Florida.

Thanks for listening and for supporting your local public radio station.

ANNOUNCER: Compact Discoveries is made possible in part by Story Books, publishers of The Timeless Tales of Reginald Bretnor, selected and edited by Fred Flaxman. Samples and ordering available at bretnor dot com, b-r-e-t-n-o-r dot com; and by Educate Yourself for Tomorrow, an on-line guide to 37 different Liberal Arts courses for personal development, including “Mozart and the Evolution of Western Music.” On the web at


  2009 Compact Discoveries