A Calm Without a Storm

After his death in November 1924 at the age of 79, composer Gabriel Fauré was given the honor of a state funeral. After a procession through the streets of Paris, a service was held at the Church of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, the neoclassical temple known colloquially as La Madeleine. Fauré had served as organist and choirmaster there, so it was a fitting site for his funeral. Fitting, too, was the recognition given in a state funeral, since from 1905 to 1920, Fauré had been the principal of the prestigious Conservatoire de Paris. This august institution had long been at the center of French cultural life, and Fauré was at its helm at a time when significant changes were made in how it was organized. The year he retired from that post, he was awarded the Grand-Croix of the Légion d’honneur, a rare tribute for a musician.

Fauré’s achievement as one of the most significant French composers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was thus honored, though he seems never to have pursued fame or notoriety. Said to have been a quiet and charming man, he is described by English music critic Nicholas Williams as “the most graciously civilized of French creative artists.” Williams observes that the French have always promoted a very particular understanding of a cultural ideal, and “Fauré’s music defines better than words what it stands for in terms of formal elegance and refined artistic passion.”

Intimately Devotional

During his lifetime, Fauré was best known for his songs (setting texts of French poets) and chamber music. But now, one hundred years after his death, a work of sacred choral music remains his best-known and most-performed composition. Fauré began work on his Requiem in 1887, in memory of his father, who had passed away two years earlier. Before he completed the work, his mother, too, had died.

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Ken Myers is the host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National Public Radio, he also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church in Ivy, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.

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