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FAURE'S REQUIEM with Symphony Silicon Valley Chorale

Gabriel Fauré (b. Pamiers, Ariège, France, May 12, 1845; d. Paris, France, November 4, 1924)

Requiem for two solo voices, chorus, organ, and orchestra, Op. 48—1887-1900

Introit et Kyrie
Pie Jesu
Agnus Dei
Libera me
In Paradisum

    Gabriel Fauré famously commented that he composed his Requiem Mass "for no reason at all…for pleasure, if I dare say so" – although its original impulse may have been the death of his father.  In 1887, Fauré had been Choirmaster at the Sainte Madeleine in Paris for ten years.  With his Requiem, he sought to break the routine of the regular liturgical style, which he felt could be stale and contaminated by too much theatricality.  
    A Requiem is a Latin Mass for the dead, usually written for a specific occasion and intended for use during a church service. Remarkably for a work composed for no particular reason, Fauré's Requiem achieved great popularity even during the composer's lifetime.  Fauré began the work during 1887 and worked on it over a period of years, during which it was performed in various versions. Although it was completed in 1893, it was not published until 1900, when it was released in a piano version; and at the urging Fauré's publisher, J. Hamelle, the orchestral version was published one year later, in 1901.
    Fauré's orchestration, as originally conceived and conducted during the liturgy at Sainte Madeleine, is unusual because it calls for sections of violas and cellos each divided into four parts.  The only violin in the original orchestration is a solo violin that plays during the Sanctus.  The rest of the original orchestration calls for harp, timpani, double basses, and organ, with additional color provided by a small brass section.  
    The first, albeit incomplete, performance in this orchestration took place at Sainte Madeleine on January 16, 1888.  At this performance there were only five movements; the Offertoire and Libera me sections had not yet been written and the brass section did not include trumpets or horns.  The vicar of Sainte Madeleine reprimanded Fauré directly after the first performance because he felt the Sanctus and Pie Jesu sections in particular were "dangerous novelties," distracting worshippers from the solemnity of the occasion.
   By May 1888, Fauré had added two trumpets and two French horns to the score.  The Offertoire was added in June 1889.  After further additions, the complete work was performed in a service at Sainte Madeleine in January 1893.  The full symphonic orchestra version of Requiem was premiered July 12, 1900 at the Palais du Trocadéro, with a chorus of 250, organ, and the orchestra of the Conservatoire.  The Pie Jesu, once declared a "dangerous novelty," was so well received at this performance that it had to be encored.
    Fauré's Requiem Mass is infused simultaneously with the feel of Gregorian chant and modern harmonic flair, evoking both ancient tradition and contemporary immediacy. The seven movements together form an arch capped by the central, stunningly lyrical Pie Jesu.  This movement, originally written for boy soprano, is a single, crystal clear voice asking for eternal rest with tender simplicity.  Fauré was gifted with the ability to frame the human voice with exactly the right orchestration, supporting and yet not overpowering the vocal line, no matter how delicate the melody.  This Pie Jesu is well known and well loved even out of the context of the Requiem as a whole.  
    The work begins with the dark and sorrowful Introit et Kyrie, which is countered by the transcendent brilliance of the ending In Paradisum.  Fauré's superb choral writing is evident again in the Sanctus, praising the holiness of God; but here the filigree of the solo violin woven throughout the choral lines takes the movement to an entirely different level.  Both the Offertoire and the Libera me are sober reminders of judgment to come. In both movements, the baritone solo emerges from the choral texture to appeal for deliverance and rest.  
    Fauré's Requiem differs in many ways from a traditional Requiem Mass. Rather than taking a predominantly fearful or mournful tone, the work reflects his belief that death releases us into harmony with all creation.  Two of its most sublime movements, Piu Jesu and In Paradisum, are not part of the traditional text, but were added by the composer. The overall mood of gentle serenity is enhanced by his omission of the Requiem texts Dies Irae and Tuba Mirum, both expressing the terror of the Day of Judgment.  
    Speaking of these choices in a 1902 interview, Fauré observed:

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 over-inclination 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.

Program Note by Beth Fleming



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