Faure's Requiem - notes 8/10/14
Fauré Notes 1.2
A Requiem Mass is a Roman Catholic Mass for the dead. I am not a Roman Catholic but my understanding is that the Mass for the Dead has a number of functions including, but not limited to, the following:
• It is a funeral service in which the life of the departed is remembered and celebrated like most funeral services. This part of the service is out with the formal Requiem Mass.
• Prayers are said for the soul of the departed
• It is a reminder to the living that at some point we must also face our maker
• It is a reminder to the living that those who lead virtuous lives can expect an afterlife in paradise but those who do evil can expect eternal damnation.
The traditional, Latin, (with a bit of Greek), Requiem Mass had not changed since the late middle ages when Gabriel Fauré penned his interpretation. A new mass was introduced in the 1970s by the Vatican authorities to replace the aging, “traditional”, mass.
I have an enduring memory about this piece of music. In the late 1980’s I was doing some repair work on an old car. I usually worked to music and I had a modest radio cassette player in the garage. I was putting a new floor in the boot. I had cut out, shaped, and fitted the new metal and secured it with clamps. I learned to weld at excellent evening classes run at Perth Technical College and had become quite proficient. Using a borrowed gas welding set I tacked the new floor in place and tested it for distortion. After removing the clamps I now started to weld proper to a background of Fauré’s Requiem. The molten metal just seemed to flow to the music. I seemed so aware. Aware of manipulating a little pool of molten metal with an oxy-acetylene flame from a welding torch but also aware of beauty and meaning of the music I was working to. There was nothing else in the universe except that moving pool of metal and the magnificent music. The whole experience had an unforgettable, surreal, quality. When I finished the job I admired my handiwork. I was pleased with what I had done but sad that I had finished and could not continue: the experience had been so pleasurable and now it was at an end.
I am no expert on music. Like Socrates I can say that the one thing that I know is that I know nothing. What follows is simply my opinion; please be aware that an expert might consider my opinion worthless. I find some music very moving. Fauré’s Requiem is a piece that I find both beautiful and moving. It is beautiful as a concert piece in itself. Some parts seem gloriously and extravagantly ornamented like the interior of a central European baroque church. Other parts seem like a rather plaintiff lullaby; gentle and lilting but also with a depth of meaning. What I find moving is that, in my opinion, this piece of music is not so much a piece of religious music for a funeral but rather statement of the triumph of the human spirit over death. Fauré omitted those sections of the traditional mass which deal with judgement, hellfire and damnation. There is no fear of judgement as in a traditional mass but rather a calm and measured acknowledgement of the transition from life unto death. Death is almost seen as a part of life. The hope of life after death is still there but there is no hint in Fauré’s Requiem of an ordeal before The Judgement Throne and the fearful possibility of eternal damnation; both of which featured to a greater or lesser extent in earlier settings of the requiem mass to music. Fauré’s music seems to suggest that there is no fear or pain in death. Fauré also made a revolutionary modification to the mass; the Pie Jesu was traditionally a spoken prayer said by the priest. Fauré transformed it into the magnificent soprano solo that for many people is the highlight of his requiem. For many people Fauré’s Requiem is not a piece of religious music but is rather a secular piece that celebrates the transcendence of the human mind, or spirit, over pain and suffering. It can be seen as a celebration of the human condition, even at the end of life.
The notes that follow are compiled from a number of readily available sources on the internet. I claim no credit for their accuracy as a number of “experts” would seem to disagree on some key aspects of Fauré’s life but I feel that these notes do paint a general picture of the man. Please remember I am no expert; use your own sources and form your own opinion.
Gabriel Fauré was born in 1845 in southwest France. Musical talent was unprecedented in his family, but young Gabriel’s skill at the piano emerged early. He was given the opportunity to attend a boarding school in Paris where he would study music as well as the humanities. From the age of nine Fauré studied music at the École Niedermeyer, the ‘École de musique religieuse et classique’, where Saint-Saëns was a member of staff. Saint-Saëns was regarded as a progressive teacher, introducing his pupils not only to the music of Bach and Mozart but also to controversial composers such as Wagner and Liszt. Unlike most major French composers, Fauré did not attend the Paris Conservatoire but continued his studies with Saint-Saëns, who greatly encouraged him by putting work his way and helping him to get his music published. The two became lifelong friends and Fauré later said that he owed everything to Saint-Saëns.
Fauré gradually built his reputation as a composer. In 1887, he began work on his Requiem, simply for the pleasure of it. It cannot be a complete coincidence that he wrote the work in this year; his father passed away in 1885, and his mother in 1887.
Fauré was a fine organist and in 1896 was appointed organist to the prestigious Madeleine church in Paris. He was also an excellent teacher, and perhaps because of his renowned expertise as organist and teacher only slowly gained recognition as a composer. He eventually became professor of composition at the Paris Conservatoire, and its Director from 1905 to 1920. Although he wrote several works involving a full orchestra, from what I have read, I believe his particular talent lay within the more intimate musical forms – songs, piano music and chamber music. His somewhat austere style and highly individual, impressionistic harmonic language contrasts markedly with the music of the Austro-German tradition which dominated European music from the time of Beethoven until well into the twentieth century.
Fauré premiered his work in January of 1888 at the Madeleine church in Paris and was told by the priest that it was too novel. Fauré’s Requiem remains to this day, a unique work.
The work was written in pieces and there are several ‘versions.’ The first version included just five movements: the Introit and Kyrie, Sanctus, Pie Jesu, Agnus Dei, and In Paradisum. I believe it was essentially a work to be played in a church rather than in a concert hall. In January 1893, two new movements were added: the Offertory and the Libera me. Fauré's publisher wanted a larger-scale work and pressure from the publisher resulted in a final revision which was premiered in July 1900 at the Trocadéro in Paris. In this version, the one most commonly heard in concert, woodwinds and violins were added to the orchestra, though for the most part they only double lines present in the original orchestration.
Many recordings of Fauré’s Requiem have been made. Some recordings feature famous solo artists; some are claimed to reproduce sound with exceptional fidelity; and some are recorded in churches where the acoustics are very different from that of a concert hall.
I would be grateful if some expert could advise me which is the best but I fear the experts would disagree. In the end it’s a matter of personal preference and you must make your own choice which recording you like the best.