Tuesday, November 07, 2023

Should We Sing the Fauré Requiem at Mass? Guest Article by Mr Matthew Roth

Our thanks to Mr Matthew Roth for sharing with us this article about the liturgical value of the Requiem setting by the French composer Gabriel Fauré (1845 – 1924).

The Requiem Mass of Gabriel Fauré seems to be in vogue this year for All Souls (2023), between the author’s personal experience and posts on social media; notably, the choir of the London Oratory sang this setting for the solemn Mass of All Souls. I certainly acknowledge the merits of the singing, particularly in the lesser-known organ reduction of the original 1893 score for a funeral celebrated at the church of the Madeleine in Paris. Well done! Bravo! Nevertheless, it is appropriate to ask if this setting is one truly needed in a church’s repertoire.

There are beautiful moments to be sure, and at this point, the introit is a part of the canon of memorable pieces, at least for those well-versed in music. The Pie Jesu, if one begins right after the consecration of the chalice, is perfectly timed to finish during the minor elevation. While it is a solo, it seems to follow the requirements of Saint Pius X in his famous motu proprio Tra le sollicitudini on sacred music, without imitating theatrical or operatic styles too closely.

However, Fauré did not respect the liturgical form of most of the Requiem Mass. He significantly changed the offertory. While one may be free to use pre-Tridentine settings of the propers with minor textual variations, such as those found in the collection by Heinrich Isaac, Fauré lived at the height of French ultramontanism, in the period of lively intellectual debate on sacred music and on chant including in Paris itself; changing the text was not yet beyond the pale, apparently. Now, Fauré repeats portions of the text, but not the portions repeated in the Gregorian setting, the only one with a responsorial character in the post-Tridentine repertoire, apart from the chant De Profundis from the final Sundays after Pentecost. I argue that it would be more appropriate to sing the chant here.

The Libera me loses most of its responsorial nature, sacrificed on the altar of the baritone solo, and there is no real reason for the piece to end with “Libera me, Domine” again; Fauré does not even repeat the portions of the responsory which he previously omitted, so he does not make up for it even partially, as is somewhat the case with the offertory.

The Agnus Dei is fused with the communion Lux aeterna. In theory, this is understandable, since in his time, the priest’s communion would continue directly into the ablutions, which would be completed in the time that it takes to sing the one piece. However, a general communion is the norm nowadays, even at the Requiem Mass; it stands to reason that the music should be interrupted, if awkwardly, to allow for the communion ceremonies.

In both the introit and the communion, Fauré fails to repeat the portions which are repeated according to the liturgical books; he repeats the introit before the verse, but not after, and the “Cum sanctis” of the communion is not repeated at all; the music simply ends after the verse “Requiem aeternam”. This leads to another point: I cannot imagine singing this mass setting in the Novus Ordo. Even if the rubric on the Sanctus (that it be sung by the choir and people together) is to be ignored entirely, that still leave the question of the missing Benedictus. The introit fused with the Kyrie works in the classical Roman rite, because the ministers say the prayers at the foot of the altar quietly, but not in the Novus Ordo, even on All Souls. It is incompatible with funerals even if a grand occasion such as a state funeral presented itself.

With respect to the movements that he composed, Fauré clearly intended to replace the chant, not only the official books of the Madeleine or of the diocese of Paris, which had passed to the Roman rite by his time, but also the early Solesmes editions used unofficially by 1893 in France and even in Italy. There is hardly any relationship to the chant, even to the nineteenth-century editions considered “corrupted” and “unfitting”, which is not the case above all for the classical polyphonic settings, particularly Victoria’s (I’m partial to the setting in four voices) or Campra’s, a favorite of the Schola Sainte-Cécile in Paris. In those, even with the addition of instruments, the relationship to the underlying chant is clear, particularly in the introit. This is all the more apparent as the Gradual, the Tract, and the Sequence, as well as the chants of the absolution following Mass, must be chanted if one sings the Fauré mass. While nothing should take away from a musically-sound execution of what is admittedly a beautiful and striking work, musicians working in the Catholic Church today should privilege the Gregorian Mass above all, followed by polyphonic settings which hewing closely to the chant, of which there are so many as to make the Fauré setting superfluous.

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