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Berlioz is not known in the musical world for doing things by halves. In his 1849 Te Deum - named from the opening line of the 4th-century hymn of praise which is its text - he envisioned a work which would make the most out of a large church or cathedral acoustic, with moments of the greatest intimacy woven in together with others with colossal impact.
It opens with a series of five full-blast chords from the orchestra and full organ that pretty much announces that this is a piece which intends to seriously grab your attention from the start. Berlioz starts his musical setting with a fugue of such inventiveness and grandeur that Beethoven - then dead for only 22 years - would have been impressed by it.
This leads, via a peaceful solo passage from the organ that settles the listener into a sort of peaceful, contemplative timelessness similar to that of the opening of Part II of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius, into the glorious and sumptuously beautiful Tibi Omnes; one of Berlioz's triumphs in orchestral and choral writing. The choirs and orchestra are deployed with consummate mastery to create a setting that is in places ravishingly beautiful. The threefold Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus ('Holy, holy, holy') is the cornerstone of the piece ; the movement divides into three sections, based on the same theme - but harmonized differently each time - which three times leads into a shattering climax, each greater than the previous; the whole being orchestrated with magically dazzling skill.
The organ then quietly leads us into the Dignare; a quiet, much more subdued - but still passionate - piece which contrasts immensely with its awesome predecessor.
Then Berlioz contrasts markedly again in the succeeding Tu, Christe, tu rex gloriae! (You, O Christ, are king of glory!) - an ebullient, effervescent and exultant chorus that would give Handel a good run for his money in a contest; as well as having an object lesson thrown in on how to use pizzicato strings (plucked with the fingers as opposed to bowed) to maximum dramatic effect.
Next comes the haunting Te ergo quæsumus for solo tenor and choirs; an example of musical recycling, because Berlioz actually composed the music to different words twenty-five years earlier (a fact not known until 1991, when Berlioz's dusty original manuscript for the other piece - long thought burnt by its composer - unexpectedly turned up in an organ loft!). As with many other examples from other composers, you would never guess.
Finally, the organ pipes speak thunderously, the brass hurl out a fanfare and the majestic and awesome Judex crederis esse venturus is under way. The basses in the chorus usher in another magnificent fugal section where Berlioz's skill is laid out for anyone to appreciate; he follows this with a contrastingly gentle middle section, before he starts building up to a suitably - and this after all that has gone before - Big Finish. An ostinato (continually repeated) figure in the orchestra leads to ominous repetitions of the Judex crederis music, which has a musical effect not unlike huge stormclouds gathering, until the tension becomes almost unbearable and Berlioz lets in the sunlight, closing his monumental setting of the Te Deum with a series of fanfares and organ chords that reverberate long after the last note has been played.
**Update: I've discovered (to my vast surprise) that you can now see a performance of this (though if you're on dial-up - like me - you have to be rather patient) on YouTube. It features Claudio Abbado conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. Really, what more could you ask?
Berlioz himself only ever heard his work performed once - in circumstances which were described as successful in every way "except financial."
This is a link to the final part of the YouTube performance.