Fauré’s Luminous Requiem

My Requiem has been said to express no fear of death; it has been called a lullaby of death.  But that is how I feel about death: a happy deliverance, a reaching for eternal happiness rather than a mournful passing away…. Perhaps I have sought to depart from what is conventional because for so long I was organist at services of internment.  I’m fed up with that.  I wanted to do something different.

          – Fauré discussing his Requiem in a 1902 letter to Louis Aguettant

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The Requiem—the traditional Roman Catholic Mass sung for the dead—has formed an important part of choral music from the Middle Ages to today.  A vast number of composers from Palestrina to Andrew Lloyd Webber have penned a Requiem, even if they weren’t Catholic… or particularly religious at all.  It’s easy to see why; the Requiem text, like the ritual it is drawn from, is so broadly recognized that it provides as a easily understood starting point to explore universal questions of life, death, and life after death.

In composing a Requiem, there are several approaches that composers have taken.  On the one hand, there those that emphasize the dramatic nature of the words, focusing on anger at our loss, the fear of the unknown, or our terror of Final Judgment.  The Requiems of Hector Berlioz and Giuseppe Verdi are the best-known examples of this train of thought.  On the other hand, there are those that emphasize notions of comfort, solace, and a spiritual release as the deceased is gathered up by a merciful God—the approach recommended by Beethoven himself, who once wrote: A Requiem ought to be quiet music—it needs no trump of doom; memories of the dead require no hubbub.

The Requiem of Gabriel Fauré is one of the best-loved examples of this approach—a work this is luminous and delicate, which emphasizes the idea of consolation.  As Fauré told his friends, “Altogether, it is as gentle as I am myself.” Continue reading

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