Requiem for Soloists, mixed Choir and Orchestra in d moll, op.48

Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem, Op. 48, in D minor, is one of his best-known works and has achieved great repertoire success. The composer worked on it for almost two decades of his life, from 1887 to 1900. As the composer himself pointed out, he wrote it for pleasure in the spirit of Gregorian chant. The work is different from the usual character of this sacred genre in its lyricism. The structure of Fauré’s ‘symphonic’ Requiem, which is most often performed and recorded today, is similar to Brahms’s German Requiem in terms of the number of movements (seven), the choice of soloists – baritone and soprano – and the sections in which they sing. Fauré introduced two movements, Libera me and In Paradisum, which do not belong to the canonical form of the funeral mass, and deliberately avoided the traditional Dies irae (Day of Wrath) movement, instead including the Pie Jesu (Lonely Voice) movement.

The original version of the Requiem dates from 1887 – 1888 and is in five movements. It was written for choir (performed by men only, as women were not allowed in the church choir), organ, strings, boy/soprano (for “Pie Jesu” – the lone voice), and solo violin in the Sanctus (Holy). The work was first performed under his baton at the Church of Saint Marie-Madeline, where Fauré was choirmaster. In the performance on 16 January 1888, the children sang the soprano choral parts and the young Louis Aubert sang the Pie Jesu. But the gentle prayers in the Requiem were too innovative for the vicar of the church, and the composer was reprimanded for them after the service.

For its performance in May of that year, the composer included the remaining two movements and more instruments (French horn and trumpet).

For the next performance at the Sainte Marie-Madeline on 21 January 1893 Fauré added a baritone solo, two bassoons, four French horns and two trumpets, but the surviving composer’s sketches cannot be used to state with certainty exactly what instruments were included in the chamber ensemble. Whenever possible, the composer used a mixed choir and a soprano soloist for the solo in Pie Jesu.

Meanwhile, in 1899 the third and final version of the Requiem with symphony orchestra and organ was prepared. It was premiered on 12 July 1900 under the baton of Paul Taffanel.

In an attempt to reconstruct the 1893 version, the specialist in Fauré’s work Jean-Michel Nectou began work in the 1970s, but the first published edition was by the English conductor John Rutter in 1989. The subsequent edition of Nectoux, jointly edited with Roger Delage and published in 1994, is thought to be a better version, as it is based on sheet music and notes by the composer preserved in the church.

Most of the text in the Requiem is in Latin, except for the Kyrie, which is Greek. The seven movements of the Requiem form an arch, the central movement being the fourth, Pie Jesu, the lone voice which makes intimate and moving prayers for eternal rest. The somber Offertoire (Offering) in the Sanctus ends with an exquisite cantilena in the violins. The addressed voice to God in Pie Jesu is followed by the tenderly comforting sound of Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) and the stirring Libera me (Deliver me). The text of the last movement, the lyrical In paradisum deducant angeli (May the angels lead you to Paradise), expresses Fauré’s notion of death not as a painful moment but as a blissful deliverance.

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