Every year Clark University’s Chamber Choir presents a masterwork concert in which students prepare and perform a major choral work with orchestra. This year, on November 18th, Clark students will present Faure’s Requiem, a beautiful and haunting setting of the traditional Latin funeral mass in seven movements. Written in 1888 by the French composer Gabriel Faure after the death of his father, the work has come to take on tremendous weight and meaning.
While the Requiem tackles subjects such as death and loss, choir director Dr. Christine Noel hopes the work will take on special meaning for the community as a message of hope. “We want the message of the performance to be one of remembrance, peace, and hope for the future.”
In this concert, Faure’s Requiem will be paired with a three other short works including Martin Kalmanoff’s “Song of Peace”, Gwenyth Walker’s “Crossing the Bar” and another Faure work titled “Cantique.” “One of the lines from “Song of Peace” is ‘nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore’. This sums up everything we are hoping to communicate,” says Noel. The tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks was another important factor in performing the Requiem, as Noel wanted a way for students to honor the lives that were lost.
The Faure Requiem is an intricate piece of music to master. It poses several musical challenges for the Concert Choir, especially because not all members of the choir are music majors. At times, each of the four sections (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) divide into their own harmonies, which is very difficult to execute for even the most experienced musicians. There are also several exposed sections for solo voices. A good example of this is the tenor part on the opening of the Agnus Dei movement. “The tenors here have to be very careful of their tuning, as there are no other voice parts singing during this time,” says Noel. Despite the challenges, Noel feels that the expressive lyricism and beauty of Faure’s writing renders the piece extremely accessible to both the singers and the audience.
The Faure Requiem runs about 40 minutes in length. The minimal solo requirements and the use of a small chamber orchestra were all important considerations when choosing the work to perform. “It was practical, the right kind of thing for our class,” says Noel. The Requiem exists in three different versions. The first version, completed in 1888 was scored for only five movements. Faure called it the ‘petite Requiem’. There was no Dies Irae movement (which traditionally depicts “wrath of god” on Judgment Day), so for this version, the overarching message was more of comfort than the anticipation of final judgment.
The second version, written in 1893 is the one the Clark Concert choir will perform. It added two movements, the Libera Me, which features a baritone soloist, which will be performed by Clark student Nicholas LaRoche. The Pie Jesu was also added to this movement; usually a soprano solo movement, Noel decided to ask the entire soprano section to sing it together. “Rather than hire a soloist, I wanted the women to learn and sing this together. It is hands down a favorite part of the entire Requiem.” Brass parts are also added to this version, further expanding the orchestration. Finally, the third adaptation is the fully scored symphonic version. Published in 1900, there is doubt as to whether Faure was fully responsible for it. However, this version is the most frequently performed.
The entirety of Faure’s Requiem is both powerful and beautiful. Noel is excited and proud of how hard her students have been working, and takes comfort in the simple beauty and power of the piece. I asked Noel if she could possibly identify her favorite moment in the piece, and she immediately had an answer. “My favorite moment in the work is in the Sanctus movement. It is when the brass enters at the end of the movement, and it’s this absolutely amazing moment. The Sanctus starts out very lyrical and calm; the sopranos sing a phrase, which is then imitated by the men, which continues for a moment, until suddenly the brass enters. It is a really powerful moment.”
Here is a YouTube video of the Sanctus Movement. Noel’s favorite part begins just after the 2:00 mark.
The concert will take place on Friday, November 18th at 7:30 pm in Atwood Hall. It is free and open to the public.
The Seven Movements of Faure’s Requiem:
I. Introït et Kyrie (D minor)
II. Offertoire (B minor)
III. Sanctus (E flat major)
IV. Pie Jesu (B flat major
V. Agnus Dei et Lux Aeterna (F major)
VI. Libera me (D minor)
VII. In Paradisum (D major)