Rideau Chorale sings Fauré

Painting of Gabriel Fauré by John Singer Sargent

By Pamela Robinson and Janice Manchee

 

Gabriel Fauré was a great champion of modern music. He provided an essential link between the Romantic tradition of Chopin, Schumann and Brahms and the Modernism of Debussy and Mahler. It’s not surprising then that Rideau Chorale is pairing him with two modern locally based composers at its upcoming May concert.

Fauré was born in France in 1845. By the age of nine, Fauré’s musical gifts and a scholarship found him in residence at the far-from-home Ecole Niedermeyer de Paris. Here he remained for 11 years. It was where Saint-Saëns introduced him to then little-known composers like Liszt and Wagner who were busy innovating traditional music. And it was here he composed “Cantique de Jean Racine.”

Upon leaving school, Fauré took up a series of positions playing organ and teaching private students. When the Franco-Prussian war broke out, he volunteered, saw action and won the Croix de Guerre.

On his return, he resumed his work as an organist and teacher and continued composing various works, including pieces for the violin and piano.

Fauré married during this time, a woman he was reportedly quite fond of. This didn’t stop him, however, from seeking passion elsewhere. Contemporary reports agreed that he was extremely attractive to women and that “his conquests were legion in the Paris salons.”

Although Fauré had been known for his cheery nature as a young man, by his 30s he was suffering from bouts of depression. This was partly due to his struggle for recognition.

Fauré began work on his “Requiem” in 1887, in his own words “purely for the pleasure of it.” He selected the text to emphasize the idea of rest and peace. The original composition only had five movements, which is not a complete liturgical requiem. The final two movements were completed later.

Things began to change for Fauré in the mid-1890s when he was hired by the Conservatoire de Paris as a professor of composition.

Fauré’s students found him open-minded and fair. Maurice Ravel recounted that Fauré was initially unimpressed by one of Ravel’s compositions, but later asked to see the score again. He told Ravel that he might have been wrong.

In 1905, Fauré was appointed head of the Conservatoire and immediately modernized and broadened the range of music taught. There were resignations, but Fauré stayed the course.

Toward the end of his life, Fauré lost much of his hearing and music sounded distorted to him. He retired from the Conservatoire and was awarded the Grand-Croix of the Légion d’honneur, a distinction rarely given to a musician. When he died in 1924, Fauré received a state funeral.

Fauré would be pleased to share the stage with two modern composers. Ottawa’s own Andrew Ager composed the music for “Garden Shadows,” with text by Canadian poet Bliss Carman. Rideau Chorale music director Kevin Reeves drew on Archibald Lampman’s poem “In Beechwood Cemetery” to compose a piece for this concert. Lampman specialized in poems about nature, and it is this poem that welcomes visitors to Beechwood, where he is buried.

The concert takes place Saturday, May 4 at 7:30 p.m. at Southminster United Church.

Information about Rideau Chorale and its virtual and upcoming performances can be found at rideauchorale.com. Tickets are available on Eventbrite.ca.

 

Pamela Robinson (alto) and Janice Manchee (tenor) are members of Rideau Chorale.

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