Choral Music Notes - Gabriel Fauré Requiem in d, Op. 48

Contents of this page:

  • A short biography
  • Notes on the composition of the Requiem
  • Fauré on the Fauré Requiem
  • Notes on the movements of the Fauré Requiem
  • Texts and translations:
  • Recommended recordings
  • Recommended reading
  • For more information
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    A short biography

    Gabriel Fauré was born on May 12, 1845 in Pamiers, in the Midi-Pyrénées region of southern France. His musical talent was recognized at an early age, and he spent his high school years at the Niedermeyer School in Paris, where he studied organ, piano, and choral music and where his teachers included Camille Saint-Saëns.

    After graduating, he worked as organist and choirmaster at a series of churches of incresing prestige, until 1877, when he took over Saint-Saëns's post as choirmaster at the Madeleine in Paris. Fauré would remain at the Madeleine for almost 20 years. He also taught composition at the Paris Conservatoire, becoming director in 1905, and his pupils included Maurice Ravel and Nadia Boulanger.

    Alas, by the time Fauré was established as a successful composer and a pivotal figure in French musical life, he began to grow deaf, and his compositional output dropped considerably. He died at the age of 79 in Paris, on November 24, 1924.

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    Notes on the composition of the Requiem

    Fauré began sketches for the Requiem in 1887. Unlike many composers, he was not drawn to compose a Requiem because of the death of a loved one, though his mother passed away during early stages of composition and his father died two years before.

    By the time of the first performance, on January 16 1888, there were five movements: an Introit and Kyrie, the Sanctus, Pie Jesu, Agnus Dei, and In Paradisum. To perform the work, Fauré called for a mixed choir with divided tenors and basses, a soprano soloist, an orchestra of low strings (violas, cellos, and double basses), harp, timpani, and organ, with a violin solo in the Sanctus. He added an Offertoire in 1889, and added a setting of the Libera Me that he had written for baritone and organ some twelve years earlier. He added horns, trumpets, and trombones to the orchestra, and a baritone soloist, and this version was first performed at the Madeleine in January of 1893.

    Fauré's publisher wanted a larger-scale work, though, leading to a final revision 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. In fact, most modern scholars now believe that one of Fauré's students did this orchestration, and not Fauré himself.

    As a choirmaster and organist, Fauré constantly sought to create a new kind of church music. He wanted something different than the operatic bel canto style which was popular in Paris at the time, and different than the outsized, large-scale Germanic Romantic style which dominated the rest of Europe. Along the way, he helped to establish a distinctive French style which set the stage for the development of the Impressionist style of Debussy and Ravel.

    For example, the composers of the day tended to write for progressively bigger and bigger orchestras, with thicker, more complicated textures, and phrases which stuck slavishly to the divisions of the bar line. Fauré, on the other hand, opted for smaller ensembles and spare orchestrations, omitting violins and winds in the Requiem, for instance, when he felt they were unnecessary.

    Fauré also thought on a smaller, more intimate scale than many of his contemporaries. There are none of the larger-than-life, outsized statements of a Wagner or a Berlioz here; the entire Requiem has some 30 bars of fortissimo singing, and most of it doesn't rise above mezzoforte. Instead, Fauré uses subtle gradations in dynamic, color, and harmony to achieve the effects that he wants. And in the Requiem, these gradations often follow the central points of emphasis in the text.

    In some ways, though, Fauré's style involves some paradox. One example is the curious relationship between freedom and control. In his piano music, his chamber compositions, his songs, and his vocal works, phrases emerge that are freed from the tyranny of the strong-weak-strong-weak four-beat bar line. For the Requiem, he draws melodic inspiration from the tunes and rhythms of Gregorian chant, which thought in similarly long phrases. But Fauré was quite explicit about how to go about achieving this freedom. He knew exactly what he wanted, and is scrupulously precise in his directions on rhythm, dynamics, and phrase length. As a result, even more than in other composers, it is essential in singing Fauré to pay strict attention to every marking in the text. Often, Fauré's effects depend on very subtle shifts in dynamics or harmony, sfhits that require meticulous attention to bring off successfully.

    In addition, while Fauré sought to distance himself from the long-winded Germanic style, he still drew inspiration from a number of German masters. Like Bach and Beethoven, Fauré set a standard sacred Latin text, but felt free to edit the text, inserting words and leaving out phrases where it suited his vision. And his debt to Brahms is interesting; one might think of this work as a "French Requiem". For the opening movement of the German Requiem, Brahms uses divided violas and cellos in the opening bars, and the violins do not play at all. The German Requiem includes a German-language version of the Sanctus (Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen, Herr Zebaoth), followed by a beautiful interlude essentially for soprano solo, then a dramatic movement for baritone and choir with foretellings of the Last Judgment, and finishes with a hymn for those who are dead. There are some structural parallels with movements in th! e Fauré Requiem (the Sanctus goes third, followed by the soprano solo Pie Jesu, and the fifth movement offers baritone and choir singing of the Day of Judgment, followed by a vision of Paradise). More importantly, both composers aimed at a very different view of the Mass of Death. Rather than offer visions of the terrors to come, Brahms sought to create a mass to comfort the living. Similarly, Fauré said that he saw death "as a happy deliverance, an aspiration towards the happiness of the hereafter, rather than as a painful passing away." For this reason, Fauré's setting is remarkably subdued, omits entirely the Sequenz segment, with its visions of wrath and hellfire, and adds the Pie Jesu and In Paradisum texts, which are not part of the Requiem proper but emphasize the granting of eternal rest.

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    Fauré on the Fauré Requiem

    This section collects some comments that Gabriel Fauré made in his lifetime about the Requiem in d, Op. 48. I hope that these excerpts provide some insight both into what motivated Fauré to create this work, and into how the composer wanted the piece to be played.

    Fauré was interviewed by Louis Aguettant on July 12, 1902. The following excerpt on the Requiem was originally published in Comoedia (1954, p. 6). The English translation is taken from Robert Orledge's biography:

    "It has been said that my Requiem does not express the fear of death and someone has called it a lullaby of death. But it is thus that I see death: as a happy deliverance, an aspiration towards happiness above, rather than as a painful experience. The music of Gounod has been criticized for its overinclination towards human tenderness. But his nature predisposed him to feel this way: religious emotion took this form inside him. Is it not necessary to accept the artist's nature? As to my Requiem, perhaps I have also instinctively sought to escape from what is thought right and proper, after all the years of accompanying burial services on the organ! I know it all by heart. I wanted to write something different."


    The Requiem is also mentioned in a few of Fauré's letters. These English translations are taken from a collection edited by Jean-Michel Nectoux in French and translated by J.A. Underwood into English:

    In this book, Nectoux makes the interesting observation that Marcel Proust had thoroughly documented the cultural life of Paris in Fauré's time, and Proust's writing has many mentions of Fauré's music. The fact that Proust does not mention the Requiem once suggests how relatively unknown it must have been, outside of church services.

  • Fauré to Maurice Emmanuel, March 1910. Emmanuel was preparing a set of program notes to a performance of Fauré's Requiem, and wrote to the composer asking a number of questions. When asked about his motivation for writing it, Fauré responded:
    "My Requiem was composed for nothing ... for fun, if I may be permitted to say so!"
  • Fauré to René Fauchois, April 13, 1921. Fauré spent much of his life in the service of the church, but his personal views on religion were unconventional at best, downright cynical or agnostic at worst. These are his thoughts on spirituality in the Requiem:
    "Everything I managed to entertain in the way of religious illusion I put into my Requiem, which moreover is dominated from beginning to end by a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest."
  • Fauré to Eugène Ysaÿe, August 4 1900. Ysaÿe was a celebrated virtuoso violinist, who was making preparations to give a concert performance of the Requiem. Fauré provides insights into vocal forces and performance style in this excerpt:
    "I shall be delighted, delighted, delighted to hear my Requiem conducted by yourself with your musicians. An organ would be necessary because it accompanies the whole way through, but a loud harmonium would do instead.

    As for the number of voices in the choir, that will naturally depend on the size of the hall where you give your concerts. The work lasts about 30 minutes or 35 at most; altogether it is as GENTLE as I am myself!! and it calls for one quiet bass-baritone, the cantor type, and one soprano.

    Little Torrès was encored at the Trocadéro for the piece she had to sing, the Pie Jesu. She has an engagement in Liège for next season, as it happens, and I'm sure you will get her without difficulty. The man who sang the bass part, Vallier, is booked at La Monnaie, but he was execrable - a real opera singer who did not begin to understand the composure and gravity of his part in this Requiem. ..."

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    Notes on the movements of the Fauré Requiem

    The opening of the Introit resembles in some ways the choral opening of the Brahms Requiem, entering in unaccompanied chords. But for Fauré, there is a different set of emphases: he contrasts the piano requiem (rest) with the forte luceat (light). Then he introduces two chant-inspired tunes, one sung by the tenors and the Te decet tune, sung by the sopranos. The choir then pleads for attention to its prayer, and the Kyrie setting, a remarkably short one, derives from the Requiem aeternam chant tune.

    Fauré skips over the Sequence part of the Requiem, and goes directly to the Offertory. Even here, though, he makes some selective edits: we liberate the souls of all the dead, not only omnium fidelium defunctorum (all the faithful dead). He omits the text, sed signifer Sanctus Michael repraesentet eas in lucem sanctam (let Saint Michael the standard-bearer bring them into the holy light), and only invokes the promise to Abraham once, during the baritone's Hostias aria.

    The setting is in a sort of ABA' format, beginning and ending with an eerie chant-like tune set in canon, with one voice mirroring and following another. Between these two segments is the baritone solo, based on the Hostias text. Listen for the accompaniment, which inserts the Te decet tune in right before the baritone sings fac eas, Domine. And observe how the orchestra turns the wavering accompaniment of the somber introduction into something different entirely under the baritone soloist.

    In the Sanctus Fauré offers something like a vision of the Kingdom of Heaven itself. Over an almost minimalist harp-and-string figure (perhaps representing the clouds themselves?) and a high solo violin, the sopranos and high men play duetting choirs of angels, calling and responding and slowly building to the triumphant Hosanna.

    For the next movement, Fauré skips the Benedictus which would be in a standard Mass or Requiem setting. Instead he adds back the final two lines of the Sequence. It is scored for solo soprano and orchestra, and Fauré echoes the movement which follows by adding the word semipiternam to the text here.

    That next movement, the Agnus Dei combined with the Communion segment, opens with the other great chant-like intonation for the tenors. It's heard twice, first leading into a full-choir rendition of the Agnus text, and once leading into a choral consideration of the Lux aeterna which explores the flat key signatures, building tension until we reach a reprise of the Requiem aeternam of the choral opening.

    Fauré then omits the Communion movement, instead setting the Libera me, a responsory motet which usually follows the Requiem Mass. This setting is the sole vision of Judgment Day in the work, though the solo baritone voice (echoed in the unison choral version at the end of the movement) and the text itself puts these visions of hellfire on a much more personal scale. One suspects that Fauré chose this text, rather than the one in the traditional Sequence, because it includes the Requiem aeternam text yet again, echoing the preceding two movements and tying them together into a great cycle.

    Finally, Fauré follows his second baritone solo movement with a second vision of the Kingdom of Heaven, mostly sung by a host of angelic sopranos. This text is also separate from the traditional Requiem Mass, an antiphon which is usually sung during the burial itself. It reenforces Fauré's vision of death as a release, rather than a torment, and the work ends on the same word that it began with: Requiem (rest).

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    Texts, Translations, and Notes

    Note that the text that Fauré set for the Requiem is not the standard Requiem text. Compare this text to a standard Requiem text. Text added to the standard Requiem text is highlighted in boldface, and text excised from individual movements is indicated as well.

    Introit et Kyrie

    Requiem / aeternam / dona / eis, / Domine:
    rest / eternal / grant / to them / Lord

    et / lux / perpetua / luceat / eis.
    and / light / perpetual / let shine / on them

    Te / decet / hymnus, / Deus / in / Sion,
    you / befits / hymn / God / in / Zion

    et / tibi / reddetur / votum / in / Jerusalem:
    and / to you / will be paid / vow / in / Jerusalem

    exaudi / orationem / meam,
    hear / prayer / my

    ad / te / omnis / caro / veniet.
    to / you / all / flesh / shall / come

    Kyrie eleison.
    Christe eleison.
    Kyrie eleison.

    Grant eternal rest to them, Lord,

    and let perpetual light shine on them.

    A hymn befits you, God in Zion,

    and a vow to you shall be fulfilled in Jerusalem.

    Hear my prayer,

    for unto you all flesh shall come.

    Lord, have mercy upon us.
    Christ, have mercy upon us.
    Lord, have mercy upon us.

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    O / Domine / Jesu / Christe, / Rex / gloriae,
    O / Lord / Jesus / Christ / King / of Glory

    libera / animas ... defunctorum
    free / souls / of the dead

    de / poenis / inferni, / et / de / profundo / lacu:
    from / punishment / infernal / and / from / deep / pit

    libera / eas / de / ore / leonis,
    free / them / from / mouth / of lion

    ne / absorbeat / eas / tartarus,
    not / let swallow / them / Hell

    ne / cadant / in / obscurum....
    not / let fall / into / darkness

    Hostias / et / preces / tibi,
    Sacrifices / and / prayers / to you

    Domine, / laudis / offerimus:
    Lord / of praise / we offer

    tu / suscipe / pro / animabus / illis,
    you / receive / for / souls / of those

    quarum / hodie / memoriam / facimus:
    whom / today / memory / we make

    fac / eas, / Domine, / de / morte / transire / ad / vitam,
    make / them / Lord / from / death / to pass / to / life

    Quam / olim / Abrahae / promisisti, / et / semini / ejus.
    as / in past / to Abraham / you promised / and / seed / his

    O Lord Jesus Christ, King of Glory,

    free the souls of the dead

    from infernal punishment, and from the deep abyss.

    Free them from the mouth of the lion,

    do not let Hell swallow them up,

    do not let them fall into the darkness.

    Sacrifices and prayers of praise

    we offer to you, O Lord.

    Receive them for the souls of those

    whom we commemorate today.

    Lord, make them pass from death to life,

    as you once promised to Abraham, and to his seed.

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    Sanctus, / Sanctus, / Sanctus,
    Holy / Holy / Holy

    Domine / Deus / Sabaoth,
    Lord / God / of Hosts

    pleni / sunt / caeli / et / terra / gloria / tua.
    filled / are / heavens / and / earth / glory / your

    Osanna / in / excelsis!
    Hosanna / in / highest

    Holy, Holy, Holy,

    Lord God of Hosts,

    the heavens and earth are filled with your glory.

    Hosanna in the highest!
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    Pie Jesu

    Pie / Jesu / Domine,
    merciful / Jesus / Lord

    dona / eis / requiem,
    give / them / rest

    requiem / sempiternam.
    rest / eternal

    Merciful Lord Jesus,

    grant them rest,

    eternal rest.
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    Agnus Dei et Lux Aeterna

    Agnus / Dei, / qui / tollis / peccata / mundi,
    lamb / of God / who / removes / the sins / of the world

    dona / eis / requiem.
    give / them / rest

    Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
    dona eis requiem.

    Agnus / Dei, / qui / tollis / peccata / mundi,
    lamb / of God / who / removes / the sins / of the world

    dona / eis / requiem / sempiternam.
    give / them / rest / eternal

    Lux / aeterna / luceat / eis, / Domine,
    light / eternal / let shine / on them / Lord

    cum / sanctis / tuis / in / aeternum,
    with / saints / your / for / eternity

    quia / pius / es.
    for / merciful / you are

    Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine:
    et lux perpetua luceat eis.

    Lamb of God, who removes the sins of the world,

    grant them rest.

    Lamb of God, who removes the sins of the world,
    grant them rest.

    Lamb of God, who removes the sins of the world,

    grant them eternal rest.

    May eternal light shine on them, Lord,

    with your saints, for eternity,

    for you are merciful.

    Grant eternal rest to them, Lord,
    and let perpetual light shine on them.

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    Libera Me

    Libera / me, / Domine,
    free / me / Lord

    de / morte / aeterna,
    from / death / eternal

    in die illa tremenda:
    on / day / that / terrible

    Quando / caeli / movendi / sunt / et / terra:
    when / heavens / move / shall / and / earth

    Dum / veneris / judicare / saeculum / per / ignem.
    when / you shall come / judge / world / by / fire

    Tremens / factus / sum / ego, / et / timeo,
    tremble / made / am / I / and / fear

    dum / discussio / venerit,
    when / destruction / shall come

    atque / ventura / ira.
    and also / coming / wrath

    Dies / illa, / dies / irae,
    day / that / day / of wrath

    calamitatis / et / miseriae,
    of calamity / and / misery

    dies / magna / et / amara / valde.
    day / great / and / bitter / exceedingly

    Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine:
    et lux perpetua luceat eis.

    Free me, Lord,

    from eternal death,

    on that day of dread,

    when the heavens and earth shall move,

    when you shall come to judge the world by fire.

    I am made to tremble, and to fear,

    when destruction shall come,

    and also your coming wrath.

    O that day, that day of wrath,

    of calamity and misery,

    the great and exceedingly bitter day.

    Grant eternal rest to them, Lord,
    and let perpetual light shine on them.
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    In Paradisum

    In / Paradisum / deducant / te / Angeli;
    into / paradise / may lead / you / angels

    in / tuo / adventu
    at / your / coming

    suscipiant / te / martyres,
    may receive / you / martyrs

    et / perducant / te
    and / may conduct / you

    in / civitatem / sanctam / Jerusalem,
    into / City / Holy / Jerusalem

    Chorus / Angelorum / te / suscipiat,
    chorus / of angels / you / may receive

    et / cum / Lazaro / quondam / paupere
    and / with / Lazarus / formerly / pauper

    aeternam / habeas / requiem.
    eternally / may you have / rest

    May angels lead you into Paradise.

    At your coming

    may martyrs receive you,

    and may they lead you

    into the Holy City, Jerusalem.

    May the chorus of angels receive you,

    and with Lazarus, who once was a pauper,

    may you have eternal rest.

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    Recommended recordings

    There are many recordings of this work available. Most use the full-orchestral edition of 1900, which differs in some small but important ways from the chamber-scale editions of the 1890's. John Rutter edited one published version of the 1890's text, and recorded it for his own label. Philippe Herreweghe has recorded Jean-Michel Nectoux's edition of the text for Harmonia Mundi. My personal favorite, however, is the Hyperion recording with the Corydon Singers under Matthew Best.

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    Recommended reading

  • Nectoux, Jean-Michel. Gabriel Fauré: A Musical Life. Trans. by Roger Nichols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
    The definitive English-language biography of Fauré, by the foremost contemporary Fauré scholar.

  • Nectoux, Jean-Michel, ed. Gabriel Fauré: His Life through his Letters. Trans. by J.A. Underwood. London: Marion Boyars Publishers, 1984.
    As the title suggests, this book explores Fauré's life though the letters that he wrote. Fauré's letters on the Requiem are taken from this book.

  • Orledge, Robert. Gabriel Fauré. London: Eulenberg Books, 1979.
    Another fine English-language study of Fauré's life and music, though currently out of print. The interview which discusses the Requiem is excerpted from this book.

  • Suckling, Norman. Fauré. London: J.M. Dent and Sons, Ltd., 1946.
    The first English-language biography of Fauré, with musical analysis from an earlier generation (even a 1979 reprint is currently out of print). But this volume some incisive commentary on the Requiem.

  • Philips, Edward R. Gabriel Fauré: a guide to research. New York, Garland Publishing, Inc., 2000.
    An impressive bibliographic resource with a brief biography, a complete list of Fauré's music along with available published editions, and a detailed annotated bibliography, documenting the state of the art of Fauré studies to 1994.
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    Last updated: February 8, 2003 by James C.S. Liu

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