Fauré and Fête

June 1, 1997, 07:30 PM
Paul Salamunovich, Conductor
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Requiem Gabriel Urbain Fauré
Virenia Lind , Soprano
James Drollinger , Baritone
Te Deum (Verba Domini Cum Verbis Populi) Dominick Argento

by Richard H. Trame, S.J., Ph.D.

Requiem- Gabriel Fauré
A brief summary of the creation of the Fauré Requiem affords us with perceptive insights into his objectives. As Choirmaster (1877-1905) and Church Organist (1896-1905) of the great and fashionable Parisian Church of the Madeleine, Fauré had presided over innumerable Masses for the Dead. To a friend, Maurice Emmanuel, in 1902, he expanded on his original observation that he wrote his Requiem purely for the pleasure of it, without any other motives in mind. To Emmanuel he observed: "Perhaps my instinct led me to stray from the established path (of liturgical propriety) after all these years of accompanying funerals. I had had them up to here! I wanted to do something different."
His first performance of the new Requiem, at the funeral of a distinguished parishioner on January 16, 1888, elicited from the Pastor a caustic rebuke for this "novelty" in the established and quite adequate repertoire of the Madeleine. Nevertheless, Fauré was later to utilize his Requiem often at funerals there.
He neatly described the thrust of this Requiem, so different from the dramatic conceptions prevalent in France from Lully through Cherubini, Berlioz and Verdi with their settings of the Sequence of the Last Judgment, the Dies Irae. "It has been said," noted Fauré, "that my Requiem does not express the fear of death, and someone has called it a berceuse (lullaby) of death. But it is thus that I see death as a happy deliverance, an aspiration toward happiness above rather than a painful experience."
On his deathbed in November, 1924, his son Philippe noted with concern the possibility that his father's reputation might fall into oblivion. The father replied: "You mustn't be upset by this. It's fate; it happened to Saint Saëns and with other composers. They all go through a period of oblivion. None of that is important. I did what I could ... now let God be my judge." These were the last words of quiet resignation that he spoke.
His sentiments on death, coupled with his other philosophical and theological views, have given rise to numerous theories respecting his adherence to his Catholic religious beliefs. Atheistic, agnostic, French Hellenist, and the then fashionable anticlerical attitudes among the educated have been ascribed to him. But certainly, in spite of what textual omissions or changes he effected in the composition of the Requiem, nothing specifically anti-Catholic can be discerned either in his views on death or in the work itself. These speculations on his views seem superfluous to our understanding and enjoyment of this most consoling Mass.
By early 1888 Fauré had rapidly completed the five original movements: Requiem/Kyrie, Sanctus, Pie Jesu, Agnus Dei and In Paradisum. Between 1888 and 1892 he added the Offertory Domine Jesu and the Responsory from the burial service Libera me. The Libera me had originated as a baritone solo with organ as early as 1877. Hence the completed seven movements exhibit a pyramid structure with the exquisite soprano solo Pie Jesu (replacing the Benedictus) at its apex. This solo is preceded by the choral Requiem/Kyrie, the choral-baritone solo Domine Jesu, and the choral Sanctus. It is followed by the choral Agnus Dei the baritone solo-choral Libera me, and the choral antiphon In Paradisum, also from the burial service. The whole composition commences and ends on the word "requiem" (peace). This word is also utilized with emphasis in three of the other movements.
Parenthetically, the Libera me exhibits, as Nectoux is at pains to show, sufficient dramatic traits to enable one to assert that had Fauré had a mind to do so, he could have produced the dramatic Dies Irae sequence. It was not apropos to his conception of a Requiem, and he seems to have felt that Berlioz and Verdi had probably composed the best existing settings of that text.
Depending on the availability of instruments for his various church and concert performances of the Requiem Fauré, after much tinkering, finally settled on an orchestra of divided and preponderant violas, cellos and double basses, horns, trumpets, trombones, timpani and organ, with a harp weaving its enchanting accompaniments and a single violin's arabesque solo in the Sanctus. This instrumentation affords dignified contrast between the dark-hued strings and the brilliant soaring character of the brass, especially the horns. He always referred back to this orchestra as the most authentic.
As to the derivation of the melodies, Nectoux observed as do others: "Overall the vocal writing shows the discreet influence of Gregorian chants (from the Mass of the Dead) ...in the simplicity and meandering expansiveness as taught by the monks of Solesmes."
Fauré's publisher, J. Hamelle, urged the production of the 1901 symphonic version, which became "standard", looking mainly to concert hall performance and seen by him to guarantee the Requiem's ultimate popularity, which indeed it achieved. Here the rather superfluous woodwinds replaced the harmonic and melodic contours provided by the organ. The increased number of brass instruments impeded choral clarity, and the solo violin in the Sanctus was replaced by a full body of first violins playing an octave lower and only there.
Absolutely no autographs are extant for this concert version and while Fauré ultimately approved of its publication for practical reasons it is likely that, due to his burden of work at the time, he was too restricted to undertake its routine orchestration. He probably farmed the task out to his pupil Roger Ducasse, who produced likewise the vocal score, later corrected by Fauré and published in a second printing in 1902.
Te Deum - Dominick Argento
Son of Italian immigrant parents, Dominick Argento (1927- ) was largely self-taught. After serving as a cryptographer in North Africa during World War II, he studied from 1951 to 1954 at Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory. Here the influence of Hugo Weisgall motivated Argento to change from being a career pianist to an all-consuming devotion to opera and vocal composition. Subsequently at the Eastman School of Music he studied under Howard Hanson, Richard Rogers and Alan Hovhannes. Then, after a sojourn in Florence, Italy, Argento joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota, where he became deeply involved in the operatic and musical life of the Twin Cities. He has resided there ever since.
Commentators' observations note the remarkable parallels between Argento's career and that of Benjamin Britten. James Sutcliffe observes: "Both fine pianists and superb orchestrators, their music combines an impish sense of humor with a darker form of tonal expressivity .... Both create stage characters who come alive through the music they are given. Both tend to favour the variation form in their works, and both rejected the academic 19th-century aesthetic, preferring instead the 17th-century models Purcell and Monteverdi."
Argento has been influenced by a wide range of musical styles which he has integrated well into his post-romantic tendencies. These he has disciplined by the self-imposed restrictions of classical forms. While essentially a total composer, he has adapted the 12-tone row to provide a source of motivic and melodic variation materials. His compositions impress the listener as being in the presence of a strong musical personality.
Recognition of Argento as a leading American composer has developed significantly in the past 20 years. His operas, especially, have been performed in major European and American opera houses and festivals. He has been the beneficiary of two Guggenheim Awards and a Pulitzer Prize. Likewise, he has received several honorary doctorates and been elected a fellow to the Institutes of the American Academy and the Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1987, the Buffalo Choral society commissioned Argento to compose his Te Deum in celebration of its golden jubilee, and the work was premiered by it. In October, 1988, the Plymouth Music Series, under Philip Brunelle, presented its Midwest premier.
Argento himself provides a most apt description of his Te Deum (Verba Domini cum verbis populi: "the Word of the Lord with the words of his people"). "The words of this Te Deum, as its subtitle implies, are partly liturgical and partly non-liturgical. Associated with each of the six Latin sections is an anonymous Middle English lyric which either treats the theology of the original (Latin) text in vivid and popular language or is almost a vernacular paraphrase of the Latin itself. This was done for musical and linguistic variety; the liturgical text seemed to call for a serious and learned treatment throughout - what, in Mozart's day, used to be termed "church style". (In fact the image of a medieval cathedral seemed inescapable during the composition of the Latin portions.) To avoid the potential monotony of an all-pervading solemnity, the Middle English out-of-doors music provides, as it were, a sometimes lusty and humorous, sometimes pastoral and contemplative commentary, but always to reinforce the faith expressed in the beautiful Latin prayer that the Te Deum is."

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