Gently, quietly leads to
Light, out of darkness.
Light, rest, and mercy,
Fulfillment of promises,
A message of peace.
“Eternal rest grant
To them; let perpetual
Light shine upon them.”
And when Fauré passed
From this realm of sweet music,
They sang it for him.
Fauré’s Requiem is comforting, meditative, and utterly unforgettable.
Like Brahms’s German Requiem, there is a gentleness in its approach. Brahms focuses on comforting the living, and Fauré focuses on the concept of eternal rest.
This gentle sound is achieved in several ways. The orchestration is not for a huge ensemble: in addition to a choir and vocal soloists, the original 1888 version called for an organ and string section, with optional inclusion of tympani and harp. That’s it. A few more instruments were added in a later version, but this is not an earth-shaking, vast orchestra.
This is also a quiet work. While there are a few measures that are loud, forte or fortissimo (f and ff), there are many more that are soft, piano (p) or softer (pp and even ppp, which is nearly whisper soft). Fauré notates these dynamics meticulously. In the first movement, the choir sings the word “exaudi,” “hear” (my prayer) loudly—and then immediately repeats it very softly, which is brilliant, as the quiet repetition brings even more attention to the word. Because it is overall quiet, when Fauré does increase the volume, it has a great impact—listen for it. There are points at which the choir sings with no (or minimal) orchestral accompaniment (for example, the beginning of the second movement), and this has a particularly dramatic effect (and may be slightly terrifying for the amateur chorister).
Another way in which Fauré achieves this gentle, soothing tone is through his melodies and harmonies. Some of the melodies could easily be interpreted as lullabies, and Fauré said that someone had called his Requiem a “lullaby of death” (as an aside, can you imagine actually telling the composer this?). And throughout the piece, the harmonies shift subtly, with wonderful chromatic touches to word-paint the text.
Are you a chorister learning the Requiem? There are several resources available on the web. Parts videos are available on YouTube. You might also want to look at the ChoralPractice website. Once you register (for free) you can access your part of the Requiem and hear it sung by a person. The site allows you to adjust the balance between your part and the other parts and you can repeat a loop for those passages you find tricky. The sheet music scrolls as it is performed so you can follow it. If you need to listen away from your computer, you can purchase and download mp3s of your part, sung by a person, from the Rehearsal Arts website.
A search of YouTube will yield many viewing choices, as well as audio accompanied by a scrolling score (here’s one conducted by John Rutter).
Here is a fine performance of Fauré’s Requiem by the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Concert Choir, with soloists Roderick Williams (baritone) and Sylvia Schwartz (soprano), for your viewing pleasure.
- Requiem (Fauré) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Requiem_(Faur%C3%A9)
- Choral Music Notes: Gabriel Fauré Requiem in d, Op. 48, http://www.jamescsliu.com/classical/Faure_Requiem.html
- McKendrick, Ryan Parker, A Conductor’s Analysis of Gabriel Fauré ‘s Requiem, Op. 48, http://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1001&context=music_theses
- Gabriel Fauré : Requiem, http://www.classicfm.com/composers/faure/music/requiem/
- Program notes for Fauré’s Requiem, https://www.sfsymphony.org/Watch-Listen-Learn/Read-Program-Notes/Program-Notes/FAURE-Requiem,-Opus-48.aspx
- Scherer, Barrymore L, “Fauré ’s Requiem in Chamber Form,” The New York Times, December 8, 1985, http://www.nytimes.com/1985/12/08/arts/faure-s-requiem-in-chamber-form.html
Image attribution: Sunbeams over landscape, [CC0 Public Domain] via https://pixabay.com/en/sunbeams-sky-clouds-landscape-691635/