Certain musicians of our generation treat Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem with an excessive rigour.
Admirers of Verdi’s Requiem and of its « bufera infernale » accuse the « grâce fauréenne » in such a dramatic subject. But if this grace occasionally lacks greatness, it doesn’t bring with it the suavity that people accuse it of. On the other hand, we must admit that the first liturgy of the defunct is far from the Dantesque images of this terror that inspired the Dies irae at a much later date. One cannot hold it against Fauré to have done away with this piece, which had as little in common with his musical temperament as the peaceful serenity of the « most ancient prayer for the dead ».
The musician prefers the mood of the offertory (Domine Jesu Christe), with its strange mixture of pagan and christian images and its almost metaphysical distress, to the horrifying spectacle of the texts which mark this day with anger and terror. The shiver of the chords which underline these disconcerting allusions evoke the superstitious horror of life beyond death, full of menaces and mysteries, Scheol or Tartare.
Fauré, who preferred religiosity to a dogmatic faith, gives himself in the Requiem, as in the Horizon chimérique which is a true song of the swan, to his most intimate dream. This explains that discreet clarity in the Sanctus, and in Lux oeterna, where the shafts of columns lie in the water and the « stone flowers of the tombs are enlaced by a garland of liana »; even the intrusion of the « trumpets of judgement » in the Libera me cannot pull free the arcature of this mausoleum alabaster: the funeral poem, born in the sweet harmony of the first Requiem, clarifies itself and draws to a close in an extatic conclusion, In paradisum, « paradis pleints où sont harpes et luz »...murmured Villon.
The requiem was written in 1887 and hailed the last passage of the master in the church of the Madeleine (November 1924) where had been organist from 1896 until his death.
From R.P. Martin, de l’Oratoire