Gabriel Fauré


Romantic/20th Century

Gabriel Fauré was a one-off. He didn’t try to change musical history in the way that some composers wanted to do – such as Wagner, with his louder, longer, super-emotional music – but he followed his own path and his own voice.

Fauré was a fairly quiet and well-behaved child. He was the only one among his five siblings to show musical talent, and when he was nine his parents sent him to a music school in Paris to train as a church organist and choirmaster. He was taught by Camille Saint-Saëns, who soon took the younger composer under his wing. The two became lifelong friends.

Fauré saw himself as the natural successor to a long French musical tradition stretching back through Berlioz, Rameau, Couperin and Lully, all the way to the great medieval French composers.

As well as his piano music, which often has wistfully wandering melodies, Fauré became well known for his songs. His Requiem is now one of the most famous and loved choral works of all. Elgar tried to get it performed in Britain but didn’t manage it. Only in 1937 did that happen, almost 50 years after its first performance in France – quite weird when it’s now performed several times a year by all sorts of choirs (both talented and terrible) yet the composer is dead! Sometimes great things are not understood or recognised straight away.

In later life, Fauré was a fine teacher. He became head of the Paris Conservatoire, which he modernised. It had been a very old-fashioned organization. One of his many pupils was Maurice Ravel. Fauré emphasised good taste and ‘clean lines’ but he never dictated to his pupils. So you can see that, although he was not a revolutionary, Fauré certainly influenced later composers and encouraged them to express their own ideas. For many years he reviewed new works for the French newspaper Le Figaro but he was never comfortable being a critic because he was basically a kind and generous man, who wanted to be positive. By the time he died, at the age of 79, he was famous, admired and honoured as the grand old man of French music.

Gabriel Faure, courtesy of Benjamin Chai

Play Music!

Play Music!

Find some Fauré to play.

Requiem, Op. 48: Pie Jesu

Fauré’s Requiem is his most famous work. It is sweeter than most of his music. The ‘Pie Jesu’ (‘Merciful Jesus’) for solo soprano has a simple, magical presence that has touched and comforted millions of listeners.

Performers: Lisa Beckley, soprano; Oxford Camerata; Colm Carey, organ; Jeremy Summerly

Taken from Naxos 8.556679

Barcarolle No. 1 in A minor, Op. 26

This sounds as if the composer is in the middle of a sweet dream. Typical of Fauré’s piano music, it is difficult to play but you can’t always tell! It was performed first by Saint-Saëns.

Performers: Pierre-Alain Volondat, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.556679

Pavane, Op. 50

A calm and noble work with a sinuous melody, this became hugely popular. It was originally written for piano but here it is played by an orchestra.

Performers: Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Keith Clark

Taken from Naxos 8.556679

Do You Know?

Do You Know?

See if you can answer the questions below!

 Fauré had many students. They included which of the following?

a. Maurice Ravel
b. Arnold Schoenberg
c. Elvis Presley

 Fauré’s music was particularly admired by which English composer?

a. William Byrd
b. Edward Elgar
c. John Tavener

 Fauré died of pneumonia brought on by which activity?

a. Camping in the open air
b. Marathon-running
c. Smoking

 Fauré wrote which famous choral work, performed all over the world to this day?

a. Mass in B minor
b. Requiem
c. Messiah

 Fauré was excellent at which instrument?

a. The organ
b. The cello
c. The guitar

Key Facts…

Key Facts…
  1. Fauré was very attractive to women; one of his partners was Emma Bardac, who later became the wife of Debussy.
  2. In the last years of his long life, Fauré started to go deaf.
  3. Fauré’s first proper job was organist at a church in Rennes, but he was bored there and used to sneak out of church services for a quick cigarette! In the end they sacked him.
  4. Fauré made trips abroad to see Wagner’s operas – he liked his music enormously, though it did not influence his own.
  5. Elgar admired Fauré enormously and they had dinner together when Fauré came to London.

Play More Music!

Play More Music!

Here is more music to listen to. Click the + to see tracks and information about each work!

Orchestral Works

Masques et Bergamasques, Op. 112

Fauré’s reverence for the old world of 18th-century French music is shown in this delightful suite. It was commissioned by the Prince of Monaco and first performed in Monte Carlo.

Performers: RTE Sinfonietta; John Georgiadis

Taken from Naxos 8.553360

Pelléas et Mélisande: Suite, Op. 80

Maurice Maeterlinck’s play Pelléas et Mélisande was published in 1892; Fauré wrote this incidental music for a staging of the play in London in 1898. It inspired Debussy’s opera, which is now more famous.

Performers: RTE Sinfonietta; John Georgiadis

Taken from Naxos 8.553360

Choral and Vocal

Requiem, Op. 48

The generally consoling nature of the Requiem led Fauré to leave out the wrathful ‘Dies irae’ movement found in a typical requiem. He put in the ‘Pie Jesu’ (‘Merciful Jesus’) and the angelic ‘In paradisum’ (‘In Paradise’) – movements that underline his message of eternal rest and happiness. But this strikingly popular work does also have its darker moments – the opening, for example.

Performers: Lisa Beckley, soprano; Nicholas Gedge, bass-baritone; Oxford Camerata; Oxford Schola Cantorum; Colm Carey, organ; Jeremy Summerly

Taken from Naxos 8.550765

Messe basse

Fauré’s Messe basse (‘Low Mass’) for female choir and organ began as a work written by Fauré and his former André Messager. A few years later, Fauré worked on just the movements he had written himself, took out the Gloria and added a Kyrie, and published these as Messe basse in 1907. It is a graceful and attractive example of Fauré’s choral writing.

Performers: Oxford Schola Cantorum; Colm Carey, organ; Jeremy Summerly

Taken from Naxos 8.550765

Cantique de Jean Racine

At 19, Fauré entered this in a composition competition – and he won. The text is a 17th-century hymn by the French playwright Jean Racine, and the style of the music is like Fauré’s later Requiem. The long, slow, warm melodic line draws you in, and the organ ripples gently underneath. It is a comforting piece.

Performers: Oxford Schola Cantorum; Colm Carey, organ; Jeremy Summerly

Taken from Naxos 8.550765

Piano Music

Dolly Suite, Op. 56

The opening number of the Dolly Suite is another very famous Fauré melody. He wrote this set of duets for the daughter of the singer Emma Bardac. This little girl, Hélène, was nicknamed Dolly. Many pianists, both amateur and professional, get great joy from playing this suite – especially whizzing through the final ‘Le pas espagnol’, which requires careful co-ordination between the four hands!

Performers: Pierre-Alain Volondat and Patrick De Hoodge, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.553360

Nocturnes, Op. 33

The influence of Chopin’s nocturnes is obvious in these pieces. Although Fauré played the organ, he actually preferred the piano. The pieces don’t sound particularly difficult, but they are… When Liszt first played them he told Fauré he had ‘run out of fingers’: that didn’t happen often with Liszt!

Performers: Jean Martin, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.550794

Theme and Variations in C sharp minor, Op. 73

This is Fauré’s largest work for solo piano. The opening theme has a fateful tread. But typically for Fauré, the work ends with poise and positivity.

Performers: Jean Martin, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.550794

Barcarolle No. 13 in C major, Op. 116

This is one of Fauré’s late works, written when he was almost deaf. It is quiet but nostalgic, as if he is looking back at his earlier piano music through the haze of memory.

Performers: Pierre-Alain Volondat, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.553634

Ballade in F sharp major, Op. 19

This is another of Fauré’s few longer pieces for piano. It is better known in an arrangement he made for piano and orchestra (suggested by Liszt), but the original version was for solo piano – as here. It was dedicated to Fauré’s friend and mentor, Saint-Saëns. Sometimes calm, sometimes moving faster, often rippling – it’s like water in a stream.

Performers: Pierre-Alain Volondat, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.553634

3 Romances sans paroles (Romances Without Words), Op. 17

These Three Romances Without Words take after Mendelssohn’s famous Songs Without Words for piano, which were written around 20 years earlier. The piano itself is doing the singing – so of course there are no words! Fauré’s pieces quickly became a popular French answer to Mendelssohn’s German ones.

Performers: Jean Martin, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.556679

Chamber Music

String Quartet in E minor, Op. 121

This quartet was the last music Fauré wrote. He completed it only weeks before he died. He wasn’t keen on writing a string quartet, saying it was really difficult to do.  In fact, he produced one of a handful of the most satisfying quartets ever written – intimate and other-worldly – a fine way to cap a lifetime’s music.

Performers: Ad Libitum Quartet

Taken from Naxos 8.554722

Piano Quartet No. 2 in G minor, Op. 45

This is one of Fauré’s most passionate works. In its first performance in 1887, Fauré himself was the pianist. The four movements contrast with each other. In the tranquil third movement, the piano suggests the church bells at Cadirac, near Fauré’s family home, while the viola has a gentle melancholic melody.

Performers: Kungsbacka Piano Trio; Philip Dukes, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.573223

Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 120

Written late in life, Fauré began this trio for clarinet, cello and piano but changed it to the more common group of violin, cello and piano. The first performance was given in a Paris concert in honour of the composer’s 78th birthday. Long lines and a wistfulness are found throughout this music – very typical of Fauré.

Performers: Kungsbacka Piano Trio

Taken from Naxos 8.573042

Violin Sonata No. 1 in A major, Op. 13

This is an early and popular chamber work. There are echoes of Schumann and Mendelssohn occasionally, but elegant restraint and Romantic passion are combined in a way that is unique to Fauré. Violin and piano are equal partners here – listen to how they echo each other, weave round each other, like a musical dancing pair!

Performers: Dong-Suk Kang, violin; Pascal Devoyon, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.550906