Have I mentioned how much I love Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem in D Minor (Op. 48)? Among all the Requiems I’ve heard it stands quite alone. It has an ethereal beauty that is hard to describe. It is full of divine light. Even its more sombre moments stand in relationship to this light; the light may not permeate them, but it is all around, casting little glimmers of hope. Fauré’s Requiem is very much expressive of mankind’s hope in Heaven.
A fine example of this expression of hope and the interplay of light even in the sombre areas is right at the beginning, with the Introit/Kyrie. I can’t find a decent performance on Youtube, so I’ll describe it: it starts off with this very heavy, slow, deep, downward scale, overlaid by a soft, rather tentative chanting of the chorus which gradually heightens and crescendos to a magnificent “et lux perpetua” before softening to a plaintive series of “luceat eis.” There’s a moment of silence, and then the organ picks up what will be the main melody, while the strings rise and fall in minor-key arpeggios. The chorus sings the melody, still underpinned with the minor arpeggios, and then, again at the “et lux perpetua,” both chorus and strings build and suddenly, the chord switches from minor to major–just for a moment! But those moments are when the light breaks through and completely lifts us out of the darkness! And I’m pretty certain that it is no accident that those moments coincide with the phrase “et lux perpetua.”
Many of the movements, such as the Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and In Paradisum brim over with luminous delight and more than a few hints of the sensuality that makes French modern classical music so exciting. They truly evoke a sense of Heaven. If I didn’t believe in Heaven, listening to this music would make me want to! I agree with many people that the Pie Jesu is the crowning glory of the work; it is so sweet and pure, and it perfectly distills the hopeful prayer that is this Requiem as a whole. The Dies Irae does not have it’s own movement, and Fauré wanted to get away from the frightful, apocalyptic tone that most classical Requiems had. But he did put it in as a surprisingly positive and powerful climax to the very understated Libera Me. I always find it very satisfying!
There is much more I could say, but I highly recommend that everybody listen to it for themselves! I’ve tried to give you some videos, but CDs/MP3s are always better quality. It’s not very long, roughly 40 minutes, if that. Fauré did not write his Requiem to be a large concert piece, but rather an actual liturgical piece. And it was used as such for funeral Masses–including Fauré’s own. I’ve heard a few different performances, some of which have been quite gloomy and ponderous… not at all what the composer intended. Currently, I am enjoying this rendition by John Rutter and the Cambridge Singers. I’ve been listening to it a lot lately, to soothe and uplift me.