Program Notes

Fauré Requiem and Cantique de Jean Racine

Fauré Requiem and Cantique de Jean Racine.

ABOUT THE COMPOSER Gabriel-Urbain Fauré (1845-1924) figured prominently in the upheaval which took place in French music from the late 1800’s into this 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 milennial 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.

PROGRAM NOTES: Cantique de Jean Racine Cantique is an early Fauré work, composed in 1865 while he was still a student at the Niedermeyer School. The poet and dramatist Jean-Baptiste Racine (1639- 1699) struggled for acceptance of his works, which typically employed classical literary themes; this poem was from a collection entitled “Hymns Translated from the Roman Breviary”. It comes as no surprise that the classically-inclined young (20) Fauré drew inspiration from Racine. While “Cantique” could be translated “Song”, the English “Canticle” accurately evokes the prayer of supplication that is the essence of the work.

Requiem 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 1984 edition by John Rutter, used in this concert, attempts to be faithful to the 1888 version, but 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 the 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.

James Fancher