On Sunday, May 7, 2017, at 3PM EDT (GMT -5), the Detroit Symphony will present a free webcast of The Defiant Requiem, a performance of Verdi’s Requiem that tells the story of the prisoners of the Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp who performed the requiem during World War II. The multimedia performance was created by Murry Sidlin, and includes projections of scenes from propaganda films and testimony from survivors of the concentration camp who performed the requiem. Murry Sidlin will be the guest conductor and will speak during the pre-concert talk that begins at 2PM EDT. Do not miss this powerful presentation. You may see it at http://www.dso.org/live.
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/
Tender, calm, and so peaceful:
A requiem that dwells on
Eternal rest and light, peace,
Mercy and welcome.
Grace and elegance,
Music that soothes and comforts:
The more I have read about Gabriel Fauré, the more I have wanted to read. And the more I have listened to his music, the more I have wanted to hear. What a fascinating fellow!
He was drawn to music at an early age, and was sent to study at a music school in Paris, which in time was headed by Camille Saint-Saëns. At first, Saint-Saëns was Fauré’s teacher, but the two became close friends.
After graduation, Fauré worked as a church organist…until he showed up one Sunday morning in his evening clothes after partying all night. Thereafter, he became the organist at a different church.1
He fought in the Siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. 1
After the war, he was choirmaster at Saint-Sulpice, where Charles-Marie Widor was organist. The church had two organs, and the two would improvise together, trying to trick each other with unexpected key changes. Saint-Saëns described Fauré as “a first-class organist when he wanted to be.” 1
As a professor at the Paris Conservatory, Fauré taught Maurice Ravel and Nadia Boulanger, among others. He later became the school’s director, and modernized procedures and updated the curriculum to include works by Debussy and Wagner. Old-timers were not amused by the inclusion of this newfangled music. However, the group of contemporary composers known as Les Six adored him. 1
Fauré’s music spanned the period between Romanticism and 20th century music. His later music hints at the changes that were occurring at the time, away from a fixed tonality and traditional chord progressions, and toward more amorphous harmonies. His last work was his first string quartet, finished less than two months before he died. 1
An example of Fauré embracing the modern is now a great treasure. He recorded a number of piano rolls, and through them, we can hear him playing his own music. At the links you can hear Fauré play his Pavane (Op. 50), a Valse Caprise from Op. 38, a Valse Caprice from Op. 59, and Nocturne No. 7 (Op. 74).
I would be remiss to omit Fauré’s Requiem. I could write an entire post on it—and I will, because I am currently learning to sing it. But I need to immerse myself in it more first to be able to adequately describe it to you. It is a towering work, a giant, but one that whispers. A deeply emotional work, yet one that Fauré said that he wrote “for nothing—for fun, if I may say so!”2 The Requiem departs from the traditional requiem text, and focuses on eternal rest and perpetual light. In a way, it is reminiscent of the Brahms German Requiem in its comforting tone. It is beautiful, and I look forward to singing it and telling you more about it soon.
It is hard to know what to highlight, there are so many works I could present for you. I’ll pick two. First, his lovely song Aprés Un Rêve, sung here by Pumeza Matshikiza with pianist Simon Lepper.
And, for now, I leave you with Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine (Op. 11) for orchestra and choir. Fauré wrote this when he was 19 years old, and it took first prize in a composition competition (imagine his competitors!).
- Letter from Fauré to composer Maurice Emmanuel, quoted in Nectoux, Jean-Michel, Gabriel Fauré – A Musical Life, trans. Roger Nichols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991, p 116.
Image attribution: Photograph of Gabriel Fauré by De Jongh, Lausanne, 1907 [Public domain in US], original held by the Bibliothèque nationale de France. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Faure1907.jpg