The best known of Fauré's large works, the Requiem was completed in 1890. While his motivation for the piece is unclear, it has been pointed out that the piece is unrelated to the death of his parents a few years prior. Written for full orchestra, organ, mixed chorus, and soprano and baritone soloists, the piece is a short seven movements totaling only 35 minutes in length. The most famous of the movements is the Pie Jesu aria for soprano.
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The first movement begins slowly in D minor with the chorus homophonically stating the "Requiem aeternam" text. The Kyrie begins with a reiteration of a tenor melody from the Introit, first in unison, then in four-part harmony. The "Christe" is first called strong and urgent, dying until the final "Kyrie" appears pianissimo.
The Offertory begins in B minor with an alto and tenor canon in short succession on a simple modal melody. The baritone enters with "Hostias et preces" beginning on a repeated note, but ends more melodically with the phrase "fac eas, Domine, de morte transire ad vitam." The chorus repeats the first line on the same motif, but in polyphony. The movement concludes on an uplifting Amen in B major.
Unlike many compositions of the Sanctus movement, Fauré's is expressed in a very simple form. The sopranos sing a soft, rising and falling three note melody, followed then by men, and finally with the harp and violin on a dream-like melody. This pattern appears more than once until the word "excelsis" lands on a forte, and the accompaniment is replaced by firm, powerful major chords along with a horn fanfare. The movement drifts back into a dream-like state until the full choir repeats "Sanctus" a final time.
The most well-known movement, Pie Jesu, is a soprano aria built on a modal melody in B-flat major. The motif is stated a total of three times, with the second higher than the first, and the third the lowest of the three.
The Agnus Dei begins with a fluid melody in the orchestra. After a breif introduction, the tenors sing a rising and falling melody. The accompaniment suddenly turns minor as the Lamb of God is pleaded with for rest. The choir closes the movement with a reprise of the opening of the mass ("Requiem aeternam"), before the orchestra finalizes it with the Agnus Dei melody.
The Libera me opens with the baritone singing alone. The choir continues the text in four part homophony until the music gains momentum at the "Dies irae" that is expressed in fortissimo chords. The choir repeats the opening statement of the baritone in full unison. Soloist, then choir end the movement softly repeating "Libera me, Domine."
The final movement, In Paradisum, lies on a continuously shimmering motion in fast, broken triads in the orchestra. The soprano soloist sings a rising, expressive melody that is enriched by the chorus divided in six parts. A second thought is again sung by the soprano, filled out on the final words of "Requiem aeternam" by the chorus, again.
Fauré's Requiem bears a striking resemblance to Brahms' German Requiem in structure, employing seven movements, soprano and baritone soloists, baritone with choir in movements two and six, and the soprano in a central movement. In both works, the four remaining movements employ only the choir, as opposed to Verdi, who has the soloists permeated throughout his Requiem.
Notably, Fauré's Requiem is often assimilated to Duruflé's Requiem, in which the harmonic analysis can be simplified as Modern. The language that Fauré uses, musically, is very safe, if it were written even twenty years later. His use of daring harmonies pushes the envelope of what can be considered a beautifully solemn requiem.
I chose this piece simply because I wanted to know more about it. While folk music defines many compositions during the Romantic period, Fauré gives his spin on this by using modal, chant-like melodies in the place of the folk songs. While this is a simple difference, it redefines Fauré's music to be far less nationalistic. Particularly for the Requiem, this allows the music to speak earnestly to the meaning of the text.
Bonds, Mark Evans. A History of Music in Western Culture. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice-Hall, 2013.
Nectoux, Jean-Michel. "Fauré, Gabriel." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed April 30, 2014, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/09366.
Summer, Robert J. Choral Masterworks from Back to Britten: Reflections of a Conductor. Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2007.