Program Notes

2008 Spring – Requiem – Fauré

Requiem by Gabriel Fauré

About The Composer

Gabriel-Urbain Fauré (1845-1924) figured prominently in the upheaval that took place in French music from the late 1800’s into the twentieth century. Educated as an organist, his teachers included Niedermeyer and Saint-Saens, and he served several churches including the Madeleine Church in Paris, where he was assistant organist (to Saint-Saens), choirmaster, and, later, chief organist. Concurrent with the last promotion, he became professor of composition at the Paris Conservatory, accepting the Directorship of the Conservatory in 1905, a post he held for 15 years. Among his students at the Conservatory were Ravel, Enesco and Nadia Boulanger.

Musically, Fauré was a classicist, although his classicism owed more “to Couperin and Rameau than to Mozart or Beethoven” (Paul Landormy, quoted by Milton Cross)– that is, his products were distinctly French. Despite his traditionalism, he nonetheless “bent…rules to meet his own ends with …skill”, as Larousse notes, thus contributing to the millennial overturning of musical convention, even though his works lack the brashness of Debussy, Ravel, and other stalwarts of that musical revolution.

He lived long enough to be appreciated, as evidenced by election to the French Academie des Beaux-Arts in 1909, award of the Legion d’ Honneur in 1910, and a festive gala in his honor in Paris in 1922. He was also respected among ‘Les Six’, a group of young avant-garde composers inspired by the dramatist Cocteau, including Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, and Francis Poulenc, although they rejected such French stalwarts as Debussy.


Although Fauré was a mature composer when the Requiem was begun in 1886, it was one of his first forays into an extended work: Much of his output had consisted of songs and short works for chamber audiences. The death of his father in 1885 provided an impetus for this work as a memorial, but his mother was also gone by the time the work premiered at the Madeleine in January 1888. At least three versions of the work were performed over the next twelve years; the version used in this concert, was edited by John Rutter, and attempts to be faithful to the 1888 version, but it includes the Offertory and Libera Me, which were not part of the first early performances — the former written in 1889, and the latter adapted from an earlier, independent work. The Pie Jesu was included in the first performance, but the original manuscript has been lost and the movement here is extracted from the published version of 1900.

Fauré himself characterized this work as a `little Requiem’ and it seems certain that he had in mind a chamber-music sound, with a small choir accompanied by organ and a few strings. Not surprisingly, this has made it a favorite of smaller ensembles: It is often presented by church choirs, for example, and the Naperville Chamber Singers made it a focal point of their May concert in 1997. Significantly, the traditional “Dies Irae”, while it departs from this pacific outlook, has been restricted in this work to about 30 measures of the Libera Me. And nowhere in the work is the feeling of peace and warmth so well exemplified as in the fourth movement, the Pie Jesu, for soprano solo dolce e tranquillo. Also in keeping with this feeling, the work ends with a similarly tranquil In Paradisum, although this choral movement does rise to a climax celebrating the departed souls’ journey’s end in the ‘new Jerusalem’, the holy city itself.

The Chorus as a whole last presented the Requiem in May 1979, under its founding director, Robert O. Jaynes.

J. R. Fancher, Mar. 2008