On the Bochsa Requiem

After Napoleon was first defeated by a coalition of European powers in 1814, the coalition restored the throne of France to Louis XVIII on 6 April 1814. Louis XVIII returned to Paris on 24 April 1814 and the subsequent celebration of the Bourbon Restoration was the occasion for a Motet, by Bochsa, “Composed for the celebration of the Apothéose of Louis XVI and the Happy Return of the Bourbons”.

After “The Hundred Days,” during which Napoleon attempted to regain control, another, much larger celebration was held on 15 January 1815 centered on the reburial of the remains of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. It was for this celebration that Bochsa and Cherubini composed Requiems in honor of Louis XVI.

The Bourbon Restoration ended with the July Revolution of 1830, a commemoration of which resulted in the government’s commission of Berlioz’ Symphony for Band. Thus we have as book-ends for the Bourbon Restoration two large-scale, important original compositions for large band.

The Requiem for Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette

Louis XVI had been beheaded on 21 January 1793, as a victim of the French Revolution. But France had always been a country with a father-figure at the head of society and after the period during which Napoleon was responsible for the death of an entire generation of French young men during his European Wars, the public began to look back to the harmless old king, Louis XVI. This turn in sentiment resulted in the reburial of Louis and his wife in a more suitable location. And so on the anniversary of Louis’ beheading, on 21 January 1815, a great ceremony was held in Paris which featured two government commissioned Requiems, one by Cherubini and one by Bochsa.

The importance of this occasion can be seen in the fact that on the very same day in Vienna an identical ceremony to commemorate Louis XVI was held in St. Stefan’s Cathedral, organized by Talleyrand as an official event during the Congress of Vienna. The music on this occasion was a Requiem by Sigismund Neukomm, with Salieri conducting. Neukomm, whose birthplace was Salzburg,1 wrote a number of large-scale compositions for band which are unknown today.

Charles Nicholas Bochsa (1789–1856) was the son of Charles Bochsa, an oboist and conductor of a French regimental band who later moved to Paris to become a publisher. The son, Charles Nicholas Bochsa, was a prodigy, performing a piano concerto in public at age seven, a flute concerto of his own composition at age eleven and the following year composing a ballet. As a student at the Paris Conservatoire he studied with Catel and Méhul and while still in the Conservatoire he joined with Erard, the piano manufacturer, to invent the double action harp. For this instrument Bochsa produced a vast number of studies which are still used today.

In 1813 Napoleon appointed Bochsa as the official harpist to his court and in this same year Bochsa began to compose the first of seven works for the Opéra-Comique. The le Journal des débates of 16 September 1815 looked back over these stage works and found that Bochsa’s music had “warmth, dramatic truth and, as they say, youth.”2

On becoming an extremely well-known musician in Paris, Bochsa, perhaps under the pressure of having to associate with very successful and wealthy persons, began to create various kinds of letters of credit, forging the signatures of a large number of people and institutions for the purpose of obtaining money from their private accounts. One contemporary found that Bochsa had stolen 760,000 francs. To escape a court order for his arrest, branding and years of hard labor, Bochsa fled to London.

In London, Bochsa, by nature a showman, introduced himself by organizing eye-catching concerts such as one at Covent Garden for 13 harps, an oratorio, Le Déluge universal, for chorus, 14 harps and double orchestra and composed his only opera in English, A Tale of Other Times. His most successful idea was to found, in 1823, the Royal Academy of Music, a school patterned after the Paris Conservatoire. Soon, however, there were rumors of “freedom taken with the code of conduct” and Bochsa was forced out of the direction of the school in 1826.

It was at this time that Bochsa began his association with Anna Rivière, a very talented soprano who became the wife of Sir Henry Bishop, known locally as “the English Mozart” and already famous as the composer of the song, “Home, Sweet Home.”3 They met and began to become close during her appearances with the King’s Theatre and the Italian Opera House, where Bochsa had become Musical Director. She was rapidly becoming famous and Bochsa, to take advantage of this, eloped with her and began to accompany her on extensive recital tours throughout Europe, including the Scandinavian countries, Russia and Italy, where Bochsa was appointed Director of the Regio Teatro San Carlo.

In 1847, the couple sailed for America and performed in New York, Boston, Washington, Baltimore, Richmond, Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans. While passing through America, a review of one of their recitals appeared in the American Review for 1846, the reviewer found the singing of Anna Bishop to be rather cold and not from the heart. Of Bochsa the review was more complimentary.

Bochsa is another instrumental wonder. The harp in his hands is full of splendid effects; it is capable of infinite variety in power and quality of tone, full of delicacy and of lyric fire. His execution is wonderful, and the variety of his touch still more so. His hands wander all over the strings and produce sounding arpeggios, rapid sparkling passages above, and harmonics as pure and silvery as we may imagine to come from the golden-wired harps of the cherubims. Few, who never heard such playing, can be aware of the scope of the instrument in solos, or indeed of its peculiar effects in the hands of such a master, as an accompaniment to the voice.

In 1849 Bochsa and Anna, whom he introduced as his pupil, made a nine-month tour of Mexico and in a journal4 she kept we learn some personal characteristics of Bochsa. Here we read that Bochsa, at age sixty, was rather well-known for the “rotundity of his form,”5 near-sighted, an imposing figure who spoke with “startling emphasis.”6 Reviews of his performance in Mexico City indicate that even at this advanced age Bochsa remained a great harpist.7

He is, incontestably, the greatest harpist ever listened to.

Trait d’Union

Clear as the tones of a nightingale in his touch, he completely overrules every difficulty of this undocile instrument, and, by the power of his genius, draws from it such torrents of harmony as overwhelm the audience with delight and wonder.

Siglo XIX

Bochsa’s harp solo is dwelt upon, as a composition of the most exquisite brilliancy and a performance of incredible power and beauty.

La Moda

While in Mexico City, Bochsa actually composed, in three days time, an Operatta buffo, El Ensayo, to be sung in Spanish. In its review of this performance, the paper El Monitor reminded its readers that Bochsa was known not only as the “Paganini of the Harp,” but “as a composer of great skill and fecundity.”

Our limit of space will not permit us to analyze, as carefully as we would, this inspiration of one of the most celebrated composers of the age. It is rich in ideas, piquant and original, and the instrumentation is performed with that thorough knowledge of the orchestra, possessed by Bochsa to so high a degree of mastery.

They then returned to North America, giving many recitals, but now Bochsa’s health was beginning to fail. The newspaper Daily Alta California posted a notice on 8 July 1855:

We understand the old composer and conductor is in a precarious state of health and is afraid he will never leave California. A great musical light goes out.

Nevertheless, by December 1855, they were sailing again, now for Sydney, Australia. Within a month of their arrival, Bochsa died. A long cortège of local musicians formed a procession to his burial place, performing the slow movement of Beethoven’s Third Symphony and marches taken from the works of Handel. His broken-hearted companion commissioned an elaborate tomb, which shows her lying at the base of a tree with a harp lying against it, in the Camperdown Cemetery in Sydney, and reading:

To the memory of
Nicholas Charles Bochsa, Esq.
Who died 6th January 1856
This monument is erected in sincere
Devotedness by his faithful friend and pupil
Anna Bishop
Mourn him — mourn his harp-strings broken
Never more shall float such music
None could sweep the lyre like him!

Half a world away and six months later, an Irish newspaper carried a brief obituary.

Mr. Elia’s Record for this week announces the death, in Australia, of Signor Bochsa, a man who, had he possessed more conduct and less charlatanry, might have left a permanent name in the annals of music, and not merely in Europe an ephemeral reputation, which, for better or worse, had died out long before he himself had died. Signor Bochsa was an original and brilliant harpist, allowing for a certain flashy vulgarity of taste, which seemed to cleave to all the man’s doings. Some of his music for his instrument, both solo and concerted, has fancy and well intended (or adroitly borrowed) ideas.

The Cork Examiner, 6 June 1856

After Bochsa’s death, Anna continued her life as a traveling artist, with concerts in Asia (where she was wrecked on Wake Island and stranded for three weeks), India, back to Australia and then to New York where she died in 1884.

Notes on the Requiem

The form of the Bochsa Requiem for Louis XVI is as follows:

1. Marche funèbre, for band alone
2. Kyrie Eleyson, for ATB soli, ATB choir and band
3. Dies Irae, for ATB choir and band, Segue to Nr. 4
4. Tuba Mirum, for Bass solo and band
5. Liber Scriptus, for AB soli and Harmoniemusik, Segue to Nr. 6
6. Rex Tremendae, for ATB choir and band
7. Recordare, for A solo, English horn solo and Harmoniemusik
8. Ingemisco, for choir and band
9. Peccatricem, Aria for T solo with solo flute and Harmoniemusik
10. Judicandus for choir and band, Segue to Nr. 11
11. Amen, Fugue for choir and band
12. Sanctus, for choir and band
13. Pie Jesu, Elevatione, for soli AB, horn and harp
14. Agnus Dei, for choir and band

Original Instrumentation

The basic original instrumentation of the band in this score is as follows:

2 Tierce (flutes in Eb)
2 Oboes
English horn
2 Bb Clarinets
2 Bassoons
Trumpet in C
4 Horns
Haute-Contre, Tenor and Bass soli
Haute-Contre, Tenor and Bass chorus

The Kyrie also calls for a contrabassoon to double the second bassoon. The Tuba Mirum calls for three additional trumpets, which if not available can be replaced by horns. A note says the English Horn, if not available, can be replaced by Basset horn.

Notes on this Edition

For this important historical composition I have resisted the addition of instruments to make a larger, more modern band. However, one must not view the intention of the composer as writing for one player on a part. Already in the final decade in France the band as a medium had become one in which a large clarinet section functioned like the string sections of the orchestra. We see, for example, in 1802, in the French Imperial Infantry band in an ensemble of 34 instruments there were 16 regular clarinets and one small one in F. Therefore it is no surprise that there is clear evidence that the clarinet parts, in particular, were doubled, as for example in the Liber Scriptus where, after the clarinet solo, we find “tutti” in the first clarinet part. Indeed there are numerous exposed passages where the musical meaning would fail if the work were played by one clarinet player per part.

Also there are places where the contrabass line carries a note that the serpent and trombone were assumed, while not notated.

I have also in this edition resisted adding articulations and making changes in the many dynamic symbols. These seem to be carefully thought out by the composer, even to the distinction between a gong solo which is ff and one which is fff. I have, however, commented in the notes below on specific performance practices of this time which include understandings of articulations which are quite different from today.

Performance Practice

What do we do with the Haute-Contre vocal parts?

This practice in early French choral music dates from the Baroque where composers wrote for the chorus in five parts: Dessus, haute-contre, taille, basse-taille and basse-contre. Rousseau, in his Dictionnaire de musique, Paris, 1768, in writing for four-part choral writing clearly associates the haute-contre with the male voice.

Just as a complete chord is composed of four sounds, so there are in music four principal parts, the highest of which is called dessus, and is sung by women’s voices, children, or castrati; the three others are the haute-contre, the taille, and the basse, all of which belong to the men’s voices.8

On the other hand, Rousseau tells us that in Italian music they call the haute-contre part contralto and “is nearly always sung by bas-dessus, be they women or castrati.” He continues, “Indeed, the haute-contre is not natural in a man’s voice; one must force it to carry it to this pitch.” From this perspective one can understand why in English the haute-contre is often confused with the “countertenor.”

The problem is, when looking at the score of the Bochsa Requiem, at first sight it seems appropriate to think of this composition as one for male chorus. But in reality, it is difficult enough to find a large number of tenors and almost impossible today to find male singers who sing in the register above the tenors.

From my perspective it is a shame not to perform this masterpiece of the band repertoire because of this problem,9 therefore one might begin by consulting the local choral conductor for suggestions, as I am told they deal with this problem frequently. When I first performed this Requiem, in 1971, I just told all the women singers to sing the haute-contre part in whatever octave they could. I did this in part on the early Baroque principle given by Praetorius that one could add an octave above the soprano (here tenor) with no ill-effects so long as it was the same texture.10 The result was, I think, quite beautiful.

Nr. 1 Marche funèbre

  • Bar 4. The tenuto means to play this bar slower to heighten the feelings and then return to a tempo in the following bar.
  • Bars 22 and 24, 52 and 54. The cadences with the quarter-notes with a dot over the head should be thought of not as staccato, but as little accents.
  • Bars 26, 61. The half-note when followed by rests at this time were played as a quarter-note.
  • Bar 29. Having the melodic line in this bar only in the first clarinet, while everything else is fortissimo, suggests that the clarinet parts were doubled or more, whereas the oboe and high flute parts were probably not doubled.
  • Bar 46. At this time a bar with 4 forte marks was taken to mean: forte, più forte, più forte, più forte. In passages where the full ensemble level is forte, repeated forte symbols in a single voice within such a passage should be taken as più forte in that voice, which in effect is an accent not a change of dynamics.
  • The performers will notice that whereas the internal repeat sign suggests that the second half of the march be repeated, there is no repeat signs at the end of this section. But then there are also no repeat signs at the beginning, which is also to be repeated. It was still too early for publishers to be consistent with this kind of detail.

Nr. 2 Kyrie Eleyson

  • Bars 21 and 32. Dots over the note-heads mean an accent, not staccato.
  • Bar 61. The dots over the note-heads in the upper woodwinds mean small accents, not staccato.
  • Bar 123. The dots over the note-heads should be taken as small accents.
  • Bars 154–158. Each f means più forte in succession.
  • Bar 196. Choral staccato dots mean accents.

Nr. 3 Dies Irae

  • Dots over note heads mean accents.
  • Repeated dynamics, such as f, f, mean forte, più forte.
  • Bars 39–42, the use of the dot over the note head is very clear in the woodwinds. All quarter-notes have a dot above the note, but only the last note of each group has written above it “staccato.” In other words, all are accented, but the last note of the group is also short.
  • Bar 58ff, a very unusual crescendo by enlarging the ensemble of singers.
  • Bars 59ff, 3rd and 4th horns, the progression of mf signs means, mf, più mf, più mf, più mf.

Nr. 4 Tuba Mirum

  • This is the only movement which requires more than one trumpet. In a note, Bochsa says that if trumpets are not available the horns can substitute.

Nr. 5 Liber Scriptus

  • Here we have a movement for two vocal soloists and the typical version of a small Harmoniemusik after 1805: 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons and 2 horns, with string bass. A note in the score indicates that the trombone and serpent are assumed to double the contrabass, but, depending on what instrument the conductor chooses for the serpent part, this may prove to be too much bass sound.
  • Bars 1–5. A case can be made that the dots over note-heads are small accents. If this was true in the first three bars of the second clarinet, it would have been for musical reasons. Most modern conductors may prefer these to be simply staccato.
  • Bar 2. The grace note in the first clarinet part is to indicate an upper note trill.

Nr. 7 Recordare

  • The Harmoniemusik accompaniment has a contrabass part added, which carries a note that it is assumed the serpent will double the bass. At the end of this movement a note designates the serpent as being tacet.
  • Bar 8. Here in the first bassoon is a good example of the dot over the note-head representing an accent for cadential purposes with the solo English horn. The second bassoon an octave lower lacks this indication, not being of melodic resolution.
  • Bars 45–58. K.P.E. Bach, in his The Art of Keyboard Playing, states that the f symbol was used for several other reasons besides as a volume indication. One of these was to indicate an accent. The bars in the bass line here are an example of this.

Nr. 9 Peccatricem

  • In the style, the final half-note should be performed as a quarter-note.

Nr. 11 Fugue

  • The small note [vorschlage] in bar 82 of Flute 2, and similar places, reflect the style that one should not change octaves in a diatonic passage. Hence the little note supplies the melodic logic to the ear, so long as it is played as a grace note, that is before the beat.
  • Bars 184, 185. These bars in the original print were notated as half-notes, but with the word “staccato” written above each bar. This reflects the older tradition found in this score where the dot above the note-head meant not staccato but a small accent. Hence for a true staccato the word had to be written out. As a result the only way to show a staccato half-note was to notate it as a quarter-note.
  • Bars 190 ff. Even though the overall ensemble dynamic is fff, the additional marking of f in some voices here means an accent at the fff level.
  • When the Stretto arrives, after bar 125, the listener will notice that Bochsa builds up a dense structure of tones to imitate the impression one hears in a large cathedral when the overtones of the organ begin to build up in the space above the listener creating sometimes an extraordinary cacophony. It is difficult to recall any composition before 1815 which contains such an extended passage of this nature.

Nr. 12 Sanctus

  • Horn 3 and 4 have been dropped an octave owing to the high B-flat’s in Bochsa’s original.
  • The repeated use of ff, when that is already the dynamic level, means only an emphatic beginning of each entrance.
  • Bar 12. All the quarter-notes in this bar, except the choral parts, have a staccato dot above the note-head. According to the usage in the late Baroque, as well as is evident in this composition, the dots mean only an accent. It will have that effect anyway as long as the conductor does not make them too short.

Nr. 13 Pie Jesu, Elevatione

  • This lovely quartet for AB soli, horn and harp was used in the Service for Communion.

Nr. 14 Agnus Dei

  • This is the final movement of the Messe de Requiem, at the end of which is a note which says if one wishes the first movement, the funeral march, can be repeated.

Nr. 15 Motet

  • Bound with this score for the Messe de Requiem, and numbered Nr. 15, is a separate Motet composed to celebrate the Apotheose of Louis XVI into Heaven and for the “happy return of the Bourbons.” This work consists of a recitative, “Apothéose de Louis XVI” followed without a pause by a fast movement, “Vivat,” which again includes the ATB choir. The character of the second part is a march, which is why we now find there the addition of bass drum and cymbals.

David Whitwell
Austin, 2015

  1. Just around the corner from a house I maintained there for two years. []
  2. Quoted in Michel Faul, Nicolas-Charles Bochsa (Le Vallier: Editions Delatour France, 2003), 17. Faul quotes many reviews from Bochsa’s English residence. []
  3. From his opera, Clari (1829). []
  4. Travels of Anna Bishop in Mexico, 1949, published without an author’s name by Charles Deal in Philadelphia in 1852. []
  5. Ibid., 14, 42. []
  6. Ibid., 212, 147, 126. []
  7. Ibid., 104ff. []
  8. This quotation and all the important information here was provided to me by Neal Zaslaw, of Cornell University, one of our leading music scholars, who has written a paper, “The Enigma of the Haute-Contre.” []
  9. The same problem is encountered in the choral and band music of the French Revolution. []
  10. Syntagma Musicum, III, 1619. []

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