All Souls Day

On our All Souls Day liturgy on Monday, November 2, we will commemorate all of the faithful departed with a special candlelight liturgy.  The choir will be singing Gabriel Fauré's Libera me from his famous Requiem, Op. 48.  Composers have written settings of the Requiem Mass since around the 16th century when the austere beauty and polyphony of Renaissance reached its full flowering potential with the works of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Orlando di Lassus, to name two famous examples.  By the end of the 18th century, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Luigi Cherubini added a more theatrical flair to this genre, albeit within the context of the very sacred element.  The theatrical and operatic nature of the massively orchestrated Requiems by Berlioz and Verdi brought the development of this genre to a pinnacle of excessive instrumental forces.  Brahms added his genius to the repertoire with his unique German Requiem, a large, multi-movement work for chorus and orchestra based on Biblical passages and written in memory of his mother.

However, the Requiem written by the very influential French composer Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) stands apart from earlier examples in this repertoire for its subtlety and serenity.  Unlike other Requiems by other composers which utilize the Dies irae sequence, a very dramatic and often bombastic illumination of the day of wrath and judgment, Fauré concentrates on the idea of eternal rest.  Begun in 1887 after the death of his father, Fauré completed the first of three versions in early 1888.  Fauré, who served as organist-choirmaster at the very fashionable Church of the Madeleine in Paris and professor of composition at the Paris Conservatory, conducted the first performance of this first version of his Requiem at the Church of the Madeleine in 1888.  In 1893, Fauré added the Offertoire and Libera me movements to comprise a second version.  Finally, a third version was urged by the music publisher Hamelle for a performance at the Trocadéro Palace during the Paris World Exhibition in 1900 that included a fuller orchestration.

A translation of the Libera me text is as follows:

Deliver me, O Lord, from death eternal on that fearful day, when the heavens and the earth shall be moved, when thou shalt come to judge the world by fire....Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord: and let light perpetual shine upon them.

This setting has been an inspiration to many composers such as Maurice Durufle, who also wrote an exquisitely beautiful setting of this ancient text.