Masterworks in Concert: 130th Anniversary of Fauré’s Requiem

Masterworks in Concert: 130th Anniversary of Fauré’s Requiem

The year 2017 marks the 130th anniversary of the composition of Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem, Op. 48, a choral masterpiece and one of the composer’s most well-known works. To commemorate this occasion, Fauré’s Requiem will be performed in Carnegie Hall on Saturday, May 27 at 8pm as part of MidAmerica Productions’ 34th concert season. The work will be conducted by Rodney H. Caldwell who will lead soloists Susanne Burgess (soprano), Kenneth Overton (baritone), and a combined choir in its performance. Click here for more information or tickets to the event.

Gabriel Fauré as a Young Man
Fauré as a Young Man

Fauré began composing a short requiem late in 1877. This early iteration underwent many changes, additions, and orchestrations in subsequent years until it became the version we know today, codified in its performance at Paris’ Exposition Universelle in the summer of 1900. Like many of Fauré’s works it represents a departure from convention, giving it a uniqueness that has contributed to its popularity and longevity.

As a child, Fauré was drawn to the music of the liturgy. He often spent hours improvising on the local church organ; at the age of nine his father sent him to study music in Paris. Fauré studied at several conservatories across Europe in his youth and became an accomplished organist and composer. By the time he was 31, his first violin sonata had just been performed at a Société Nationale concert to critical acclaim. This success of that performance set the stage for his next great masterpiece: the Requiem in D minor.

Requiem for No One

While many composers choose to write requiems in response to the death of someone close to them, Fauré wrote his simply for the pleasure of self-expression. This attitude is reflected in both the atypical nature of the liturgical setting as well as his approach to composition in general. Fauré’s Requiem differs from other significant settings, such as Verdi’s or Dvořák’s, in that it excludes the Dies Irae segment in accordance with the French Baroque tradition. However, Fauré went an additional step further by ending the piece with a setting of In Paradisium, which was conventionally a part of the burial, rather than the funerary mass.

In addition to these technical differences, the overall tone of the Requiem stands apart from the solemn music one might expect from a Missa pro defunctis or Mass for the dead. Rather, it acknowledges death not as something to fear but as a natural part of life and potentially a happy deliverance. Many critics were shocked by this departure from the norm, but it was in fact representative of Fauré’s personal beliefs. In response to criticism of the piece, Fauré maintained that an artist must portray things as he sees them, and not cater to mass appeal. Although this opinion may have been controversial at the time, it endowed the piece with a timelessness that has resonated with audiences for over a century.

Reception and Legacy

Fauré's Requiem was undoubtedly one of his most famous works
Fauré in his later years

While Fauré’s Requiem was performed in Europe a number of times in the early 1900s, it wasn’t until 1931 that it debuted in the United States at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. It made its first appearance in Carnegie Hall early next year, in 1932, and since then it has been performed frequently in the Isaac Stern Auditorium. Despite its divergence from the conventions of the day, Fauré’s Requiem has been performed hundreds of times all over the world, and has had a deep and lasting impact on the landscape of choral music.

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For 34 years MidAmerica Productions has brought performers from all across the country to Carnegie Hall and other historical concert venues.  To have your choral group perform Fauré’s Requiem in Carnegie Hall, or to attend a performance, go to www.midamerica-music.com or call us at (212) 239-0205.

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